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VTL gets a boost from backup apps

Storage managers like virtual tape libraries (VTLs) because they can be slipped into a storage environment with minimal fuss. But better integration with backup applications, particularly when tracking data that moves off the VTL to tape, has always been on many users' wish lists. Backup app vendors have responded by providing better catalog integration and management of some of the more advanced features, such as deduplication, that VTLs now offer.

"We're just seeing the evolution of these devices," says Mary Ward, Symantec's director of product marketing for Veritas NetBackup. "What I think started out as virtual tape libraries will ultimately be better known as intelligent backup appliances ... because VTL will ultimately just be one feature of these devices."

Symantec has added new VTL support in Veritas NetBackup (NBU) 6.5, expected to be available by the end of this month. With its new Virtual Tape Option, users will be able to automatically migrate data from VTL to tape while tracking the migration in its catalog. Previously, users had to manually perform that migration or alternatively use scripts without NBU's awareness of the migration activity. Further, Version 6.5 will offer the OpenStorage Option, a feature that lets users manage advanced VTL capabilities such as deduplication and replication through the NBU console.

User reaction to the new NBU 6.5 VTL support is positive but cautious. John Taber, principal system administrator at The Arizona Republic, uses NBU 5.1 with Data Domain's Virtual Tape Library software. Taber likes the added catalog support for VTL because it would allow him to restore data directly from physical tape. "This would be nice, of course, depending upon the dollar amount they assign to this option," says Taber.

Jack Kinsey, network systems manager at LandAmerica Financial Group in Richmond, VA, was an early adopter of NBU 6.0 and, after evaluating VTLs from 10 different vendors, is working to deploy one in his storage environment. "I'd like for that to be the case, to have one console do it all," says Kinsey. However, if he'd have to make a lot of changes to his infrastructure for it to work, then that would detract from the point of putting in the VTL--"the fact that you can just plug it in and the backup server doesn't know the difference," says LandAmerica Financial Group's Kinsey.

Symantec's announcement comes at a time when VTL use may be surging. Sixty-six percent of Storage readers currently using VTLs are EMC, IBM or Symantec backup software users, according to our Spring 2007 Storage Purchasing Intentions survey. IDC also predicts that the worldwide VTL market will double in value over the next five years to reach $1.4 billion by 2011.

EMC and IBM offer their own VTL products, although neither is aggressively working to integrate third-party VTL awareness. While EMC says users of its own virtual tape appliance, the Clariion Disk Library, can use NetWorker to track and catalog backed up data regardless of where the data is located, the same can't be said for using NetWorker with other VTL products.

"We actually would be happy to do deeper integrations with the whole [VTL] ecosystem, because it really is about customer choice out there," says Dan Cobb, CTO of EMC's Information Management Software Group. "It's going to depend, I think, on the view of the VTL vendors," he adds.

As for IBM, Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) has long included native backup-to-disk capabilities. "They [IBM] actually have deduplication capabilities built into TSM; they've just never called them that," says Lauren Whitehouse, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA.

Further integration with third-party VTLs isn't part of IBM's strategy, at least, not in the short term. "Other than deduplication, the real value proposition to deploying VTLs is more a storage infrastructure simplification in the customer's shop, as opposed to a deep integration play with TSM at this point," says Colin Dawson, TSM server architect at IBM.

It's too early to tell whether backup apps will eventually encroach on the VTL market by offering more competing functionality, to the point where the convenience and usefulness of the VTL might be threatened.

"They [VTLs] have to continue to innovate, to add value and to get stickiness with their accounts so they're not cut out," says Whitehouse. "The backup vendors are ultimately going to decide what's best to happen in their application and what's best to leave to something else."

--Trina MacDonald

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