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Quality Awards III: IBM and Sun shine among tape libraries

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Despite their mechanical components, the reliability of tape libraries ranks high among Quality Awards survey respondents.


This year's installment of the Diogenes Labs-Storage magazine Quality Awards for tape libraries revealed a community of largely satisfied users. Last year, no vendor received close to a 6.0 rating from Storage readers; this year's tape libraries survey netted vendors a slew of 6.0-plus scores. On our 1.0-8.0 scoring scale where an 8.0 indicates total satisfaction, a 6.0 is a very good score. Even the lowest overall score in our survey (a 5.93) represents a very solid showing (see "About the Quality Awards," and "Inside this survey," below).

While it's tempting to say there were no losers in our survey, some vendors did better than others. This year, IBM Corp. took top honors in the enterprise category with a 6.29, narrowly edging out Sun Microsystems Inc. (6.27). This was IBM's first win in the enterprise tape library category after placing third the previous two years. In the midrange tape category, the same two vendors lead the pack, but in reverse order: Sun (6.30) and IBM (6.15).

The dynamics of the tape library market contrast significantly with other storage product categories. For example, disk arrays are dynamic and driven by innovation, but tape libraries are fairly stable, a healthy but mature market

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segment. One consequence of this maturity is consolidation. Since our first survey, ADIC, Exabyte and StorageTek have been acquired. In our first survey, 16 company product lines qualified as finalists in the enterprise and midrange product categories. This number dropped to 12 last year and was just nine this year. Some of this may be explained by the vagaries of survey responses. For example, Spectra Logic Corp. and Qualstar Corp. failed to garner enough responses to be finalists this year (see "Products included in the survey," below).

We attribute this to survey response self-selection, rather than business climate, as both vendors seem to be faring well and increasing revenue.

At a time when seemingly every politician is claiming to be the candidate of change and the comeback kid, in our survey Dell Inc. registered a very impressive comeback over previous years. Having finished in last place (seventh) in the previous survey among midrange tape products, its score soared from 4.98 to 6.12 in the current survey. This improvement was enough to vault the company into third place, only .03 points behind IBM among midrange libraries. Dell's improvement was confirmed by the willingness of users to repurchase its tape products, with responses rising from 63.3% last year to a more respectable 73.5% this year.

For most of the tape library vendors, their scores in our five ratings categories bounced around much more than usual. Although IBM and Sun obviously did well, each was rated both first and last within different categories. No vendor was able to run the table, and no vendor consistently polled last.

About the Quality Awards: The Diogenes Labs–Storage magazine Quality Awards III for tape libraries is the third installment in the annual series of survey-based service and reliability awards. The Quality Awards are designed to identify and recognize products that have proven their quality and reliability in actual use. The results are derived from a survey of qualified Storage readers that assesses products in five main categories: sales-force competence, product features, initial product quality, product reliability and technical support. Our methodology incorporates statistically valid polling that eliminates market share as a factor. Indeed, our objective is to identify the most reliable products on the market regardless of vendor name, reputation or size.


Inside this survey: Among the finalists, the response rate was surprisingly even across the vendor product groups. The smallest response group was Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. StorageWorks MSL Series (midrange) with 27 respondents, while Sun Microsystems Inc.'s enterprise products had the highest response rate (86). These sample sizes give greater confidence to the results for each product. The 426 valid responses give our survey a +/- 6% margin of error with a 95% confidence factor. Ninety-three percent of respondents had just one or two tape library suppliers, further indicating that users have settled on a particular vendor for their needs.

Whereas many Quality Awards surveys have financial services as the largest representation, in this survey the largest constituency was healthcare/pharmaceuticals. This group was followed by education, government/nonprofit and then financial services. Our respondent group was skewed toward small- to medium-sized enterprises, with 86% of respondents from enterprises with less than $1 billion in revenue. IBM Corp. was the "heavy lifter" of the group, with 18% of its enterprise customers having a weekly backup volume exceeding 140TB. Sun wasn't far behind, however, with 15% of its large-scale customers backing up more than 140TB weekly.


Products included in the survey: The following vendors and products were included in the Diogenes Labs-Storage magazine Quality Awards survey for tape libraries.

    Enterprise class: Hewlett-Packard Co. StorageWorks ESL/EML Series*, IBM Corp. TotalStorage 349X/System Storage 359X or TotalStorage 3494/System Storage TS3500, Qualstar Corp. TLS Series or XLS enterprise library system*, Quantum Corp. Scalar i2000/10K or PX510/PX720, Spectra Logic Corp. Spectra 64K/T120/T950*, Sun Microsystems Inc. StorageTek SL500/SL8500/L700e/L1400M

    Midrange class: Dell Inc. PowerVault 136T/132T/ML6000 Series/TL4000/TL2000, Hewlett-Packard StorageWorks MSL Series, IBM TotalStorage 358X or System Storage TS3100/TS3200/TS3310/TS3400, Overland Storage Inc. NEO series or ARCvault 24, Qualstar RLS Series*, Quantum M Series/PX502/PX506 or Scalar 24/50/100/i500, Sony (all models)*, Spectra Logic 10K/20K/T24/T50*, Sun StorEdge L25/L100/L180 or Sun StorageTek SL48/C4 Tape Library, Tandberg Data StorageLibrary T40/T128 or Magnum 224 LTO Library/448 LTO Library*

    * Insufficient number of responses to be included in the final results.

This was first published in March 2008

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