The tape storage market has undergone tremendous changes over the past five years and remains one of the best places for Vars to add value to a system - and make some money in doing so. The reasons for this are quite simple: the very pace of change in this market means that it is hard for end-users (whether small business or corporate) to confidently select and implement a tape storage system for backing up their data.
Users don't want to choose a technology that is going to leave them stranded, pick a storage format that will leave them starved of blank media - or be so conventional in their choice that they end up overpaying for a backup system that is both slow and low in capacity. And given the importance of tape storage, they feel great pressure to make the right choice.
Almost any customer you approach will have bad memories of losing data that they have not backed up. When you match those memories with a concern about the safety, reliability or future security of their back-up medium, it is not hard to see why tape storage is an area where informed customers would, at the very least, be willing to have an open mind about new tape storage solutions.
For most users, however, the problem is not in having a selection of choices for storage - it lies in making the right choice. Even large, well-known and highly reputable vendors such as Hewlett Packard offer a wide range of models - as well as storage technologies - for those who want to back up their data.
HP, for example, provides one of the broadest ranges of information storage products in the industry - including DAT tape, QIC tape, disk array, optical, and CD-recordable products. While HP obviously has different markets in mind for each of these technologies (although even HP would admit they overlap in certain areas), Vars can help customers figure out which is right for a given solution.
The product you recommend can also depend on how the products are sold and supported. In the case of HP's SureStore Tape Products, you get tape storage that is supported directly by Hewlett Packard - with a one-year warranty and "lifetime" telephone support from HP's customer support centres.
HP also offers users a chance to use their HP SureStore Tape Referenced Solution Program, which includes products which have been compatibility-tested by their vendors.
And with its DAT drives, HP promises integrators that they are true 'plug & play' devices. HP says they are simple to integrate because they have direct connectivity on a wide range of system platforms (including major Unix systems and PC networks), using a series of configuration switches.
For those requiring extra flexibility, (and what Var doesn't?) a tool kit of features has been developed to provide for easier integration.
It includes downloadable firmware, connectivity configuration switches, customizable front panels, mounting kits for the standard 5.25-inch half-height form factor and customized media.
Making the right choice: tape versus optical
Meanwhile Sony, another major player in this sector, makes some attempt to sort out which products and technologies should be used for what task by offering users and Vars alike a useful set of comparisons on its World Wide Web site. It offers particularly strong comments on why you might want to recommend optical media in preference to tape for long-term storage.
According to Sony, for many applications in finance, medicine, government, and business, a desire for permanent, secure data storage and long archival life are critical factors in choosing optical over magnetic storage. Sony's 12in write once drives, for example, offer high capacity both per disk and online (15 Gb). In a jukebox configuration, Sony's 12in Worm drive offers very large storage capacities of up to 2.31 terabytes with fast disk exchange times (6.5 seconds average with five or six drives).
The company also makes a fairly strong pitch for considering CD-R (recordable CD-ROM technology) drives such as Sony's Spressa series - citing electronic publishing, document imaging, data archiving, data backup, and audio recording as particularly appropriate uses for CD-R systems, which hold up to 650Mb of data or 74 minutes of audio using media that now typically sells for $10 US or less per blank disc.
The notebook niche
One area that could prove particularly interesting for Vars selling storage systems is the 'road warrior' notebook computer user. It is now not uncommon for notebook computers to ship with hard disks in excess of 800Mb in capacity - and many offer 1Gb or more of local storage. But unless those users can regularly and reliably backup their data to a local area network, they need to look for another way to store their data.
A new offering from Colorado-based Exabyte Corporation is a good example of the kind of hardware solution available to Vars that want to get into this market. In June, the company introduced something known as the Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port tape backup system. Based on the relatively well-known Travan backup technology, Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port is being sold as a universal, external backup system which connects to a computer's parallel printer port.
Exabyte says the Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port is ideal for power laptop users as well as for desktop computer users who do not have an available drive bay for an internal backup system. Exabyte is also hoping that desktop users who do not want to open their computer to install an internal drive will also appreciate the Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port. More importantly is you are selling to customers working in a corporate environment, this device conforms to QIC-3010/3020 industry standards and also offers compatibility with a number of minicartridges, including Exatape, 3M Travan, Sony and Verbatim.
Backup capacities range from 680 megabytes to 4.4 gigabytes, depending on the minicartridge your customer uses. The idea here is that your clients can pick their target capacity and only pay for as much capacity as they need - yet can retain the option of higher-capacity backup without buying a whole new device. As you would expect, the drive is also backward read compatible with all QIC-80 minicartridges, ensuring access to earlier-recorded data.
Exabyte claims that the Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port is "as easy to connect and use as a printer" and that users can simply plug the drive's cable into the computer's parallel port, install the included backup software and insert a minicartridge. The backup unit plugs into the computer's parallel port and has a pass-through connector, which allows the drive to share the port with the printer. Backup speeds of up to 9.5 megabytes per minute are further claimed by Exabyte.
Not surprisingly, the Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port includes tape backup software for Windows 95, Windows 3.1 and DOS (which provides an unattended backup scheduler, tape librarian and a one-step backup function that will back up an entire system by clicking on a single button). The Exabyte Eagle backup software and manual are supplied on CD-ROM. Power and data cables, plus a manual are also included.
The best part of this system, however, is the price - as it leaves a lot of room for Vars to add value, particularly when sold with a notebook computer as part of a complete mobile system. In the US, the anticipated street price of the Eagle TR-3 Parallel Port at launch was $299 or less.
At that price, it easily allows for the packaging of a solution that either adds secure, industry-standard backup to an existing mobile computer installation or creates the opportunity to offer a complete mobile computing package with backup.
A flexible solution
Exabyte also offers another innovative solution that could be useful to anyone wanting to supply low-cost backup for networks of desktop PC.
The company calls it "a new concept in portable tape backup systems" that is supposed to offer all the performance of a built-in backup system with the portability of parallel port-based backup drives.
It is designed to simplify the sharing of an external tape drive among a number of PC users or among home and office PCs and is known as the Eagle Nest TR-3 Tape Drive. It consists of a tape docking bay (or 'Nest', in Exabyte parlance) which installs in a PC's 5.25in drive bay - as well as a removable, cordless Eagle TR-3, 4.4Gb minicartridge drive. The idea is that you install one of these 'Nests' in each desktop PC and use a single plug-in drive to back up, move, or store users' data.
The Eagle Nest is based on the company's Eagle TR-3 QIC-3010/3020 drive that is compatible with a number of minicartridges, including Exatape, 3M Travan, Sony and Verbatim. Backup capacities of the Eagle Nest range from 680Mb to 4.4Gb (depending on which minicartridge you use). The drive is also backward read-compatible with QIC-80 minicartridges.
"This is the easiest, fastest, most secure and most affordable way for users to move, back-up or store their data," claimed Bob LiVolsi, vice president and general manager of Exabyte's Eagle division. "At around $60 per client after the first drive installation, it will undoubtedly establish a new paradigm for using portable external tape backup systems in multiple-computer environments."
LiVolsi also suggests that the Nest concept is not limited to tape backup.
"This technology sets the stage for users to swap or share numerous types of mass-storage devices using a Nest and cordless modules. We envision a family of nesting devices that users can choose from to satisfy a variety of near-line storage needs. Laptop users will have a nesting solution in the fall," he promised.
Unlike Exabyte's Eagle TR-3 parallel-port tape backup system, which is targeted at the laptop backup market, the Eagle Nest plugs into a nesting bay on a desktop PC's front panel. It interfaces to the PC through a high-speed accelerator card, which provides a data transfer rate of 2 megabits per second. Exabyte claims that you should be able to hit backup speeds of 20 megabytes per minute (or about twice as fast as Exabyte's parallel-port drives).
The company also points out that in the past, moving a "portable" tape drive from one computer to another required having access to the back of a PC and plugging in or unplugging several cables. With the Eagle Nest cordless approach, the drive can be simply removed from one PC and plugged into another via nesting bays in the PCs. Data and power connections are made automatically when the drive is plugged in. Exabyte says that the PC can even remain powered up while the drive is inserted or removed.
The Eagle Nest TR-3 Tape Drive comes complete with the removable Eagle TR-3 drive, nesting bay, high-speed accelerator card, data cable, mounting screws and manual. Backup software for Windows 95, Windows 3.1 and DOS is also included. The Nest, with data cable and high-speed accelerator card, is also available separately. In the US, the street price of the Eagle Nest TR-3 Tape Drive is around $249 (or less) and the company is offering separate nesting bays (which include a high-speed accelerator card and data cable) at $69 each.
These developments are by no means a comprehensive list of new and interesting storage-related products and technologies, but merely a sample that point up a few trends. As with everything else in the PC industry, storage systems are getting cheaper (per Megabyte), faster and easier to install. But due to the sheer volume taken up by today's rich applications and data, they also stand to be in more demand than ever. And that can only be a good thing for the Var who spends the time, money and energy to keep well-informed and well-trained in servicing this market.
Competition from the Internet
Another new competitor is facing traditional vendors of tape storage systems - one that doesn't even reside in the same room as its competition.
It comes in the form of Internet-based data backup, a new kind of service that is starting to take root in North America.
One such 'online back up' pioneer is Atlanta-based MCI, which introduced networkMCI Backup in May - which it characterizes as "a secure and cost-effective service for mobile and desktop computer users that protects critical business information stored on PCs". The Internet-based service claims to simplify and automate task of backing up and safeguarding business data.
MCI says networkMCI Backup was designed to support the secure backup and storage requirements of mobile professionals and telecommuters, technologically sophisticated home-based office workers and small businesses. By providing secure online transmission, encrypted off-site storage and on-demand retrieval of irreplaceable files for customers, networkMCI Backup claims that it is a great place to "protect the most valuable asset of American businesses -information".
"In today's Information Age, the lifeblood of any business is its irreplaceable information and files," opines Ron McMurtrie, director of strategic marketing and information for MCI. "As business becomes increasingly dependent on technology, more and more of that data resides on the individual PCs of millions of workers. It is vital that this vulnerable information be protected and secured, and with networkMCI Backup, businesses can be assured that their most valuable information is safely stored off-site and instantly retrievable."
With a PC and a modem, the Windows-based application is supposed to ensure that customers' critical files are safely secured off-site and retrievable at a moment's notice. networkMCI Backup claims to safeguard data from unexpected but often common mishaps such as accidental file deletion, minor hardware failure, software viruses and even equipment theft. MCI is also boasting that businesses are also protected from catastrophic data loss caused by natural disasters, such as fire or flood, by storing important information off-site at a networkMCI Backup facility.
In addition to encrypted off-site storage at mirrored MCI facilities, networkMCI Backup will also offering virus scanning. Before files are transmitted to the MCI storage facility via the Internet, they are scanned for viruses, encrypted and compressed "to ensure the security of the information" (and obviously protect MCI itself).
With the networkMCI Backup software, customers designate specific file names or types (like documents, spreadsheets and presentations) to be backed up. The user schedules a backup session at a convenient time for the data to be transmitted to MCI's secure facility via MCI's Internet backbone network. Files are virus scanned, encrypted and compressed before they are uploaded (at any modem speed) to a networkMCI Backup site. When data is needed later, clients simply use networkMCI Backup to access the MCI storage facility and instantly retrieve specific files or the entire account with a simple point-and-click. Unlike other recovery methods, there is no need to pre-schedule a retrieval session in advance.
"networkMCI Backup was designed with an emphasis on security and ease of use," McMurtrie explains. "We recognize that simply copying files to cumbersome diskettes or tapes does not provide sufficient protection or recovery options. With networkMCI Backup, the user can simply designate scheduled times when they want to automatically backup specific files.
The software and MCI's intelligent network does the rest." He says that with the scheduling capability of networkMCI Backup, the important task of data backup and management does not compete for the precious time of the work day, which has become more demanding than ever before.
Prices for networkMCI Backup are based on the amount of space used. For example, the company says that a user storing 50 Mb with networkMCI Backup will pay a storage fee of $12.95 per month.
HEWLETT PACKARD 01344 360000
SONY 01932 816000
EXABYTE 0800 966172
MCI 0171 331 7900.
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