Iomega has finally done it and produced a 10-slot REV disk autoloader using its 35GB REV rigid disks. These disks, with far more effective sealing than past Zip and Jaz drives, are removable, just like tape cartridges, and ten of them surround a single drive in the 2U-high cabinet. This provides a 350GB native capacity, rising to 700GB with 2:1 compression.

It has dual Ultra-3 wide SCSI interfaces, meaning it can link to a Windows server and a NAS unit, with a 25Mbit/s burst transfer rate. CA's ARCserve backup software is included and the device could backup one to two weeks worth of data, possibly more, before fresh disks have to be installed. Options include a barcode reader and a 19-inch rackmount kit; the standard cabinet is a desktop unit.

A server can boot from the device and drives are addressed by drive letter. It is nearly maintenance free thanks to automatic disk head cleaning and air filtration. Back-up is eight times faster than a DDS-4 tape unit, the company claims, and cost-of-ownership is lower. Restores from the unit are many times faster than from tape, as files can be retrieved in seconds using random access instead of the minutes required by tape with its sequential access.

The desktop unit costs £1,490 not including Vat.

Disk and autoloaders
Tape-based autoloaders are also responding to the increased popularity of disk-to-disk backup as a precursor to tape backup. The rationale is that disk-based backup is much faster than tape backup, thus solving the diminishing backup window problem, and restores are also much faster. Companies such as Exabyte and Tandberg are adding disk "front ends" to their autoloaders.

Exabyte's VXA-2 PacketLoader is 1U high and has ten slots providing 800GB of native capacity. Kerry Brock, Exabyte VP marketing, explained: "Absolutely there is a need for disk buffering in front of autoloaders," but it is not Exabyte's competency to produce one. Exabyte supplies through channel partners who add margin-increasing value and there are plenty of excellent 2U-high NAS systems available. "Virtually all the main backup software products do disk-to-disk-to-tape backup (D2D2T)." So he foresees Exabyte's partners providing a three-component bundle to their customers: a VXA PacketLoader, a backup SW product, and a NAS box.

Brock sees VXA as competing for DDS 4 upgrade and replacement business. "DDS outsold all other formats last year. DAT-72 has huge, huge reliability and media error problems. One large hotel chain is talking to us because it doesn't want to move from DDS 4 to DAT-72 because of this." He said that Exabyte's packet loader drive is equivalent to a DDS drive in price and now, with the VXA X-tape available in 20, 40 and 80GB capacities, the media price is now at DDS level.

Tandberg, like Exabyte, produces a 1U-high autoloader. It has 8-slots for VS160 tapes, providing a native capacity of 640GB. Tandberg's product manager, Axel Bohme, sees a need to offer an integrated D2D2T product: "Yes. We will try a 1U autoloader and a 1U NAS server offering a terabyte of D2D2T backup. Tandberg is developing such a combined product. We are already selling a 2U autoloader plus our 2U ValueNAS. So we will do it with 1U components to provide an entry-level product. Availability should be in the first half of 2005."

"With Veritas or CA backup software and Microsoft Storage Server the whole solution cost should be less than 10,000 euros."

Iomega's approach differs from Exabyte's and Tandberg's because the REV disks, like tape catridges, are removable and can be stored off-site. Their fixed disk-based autoloaders will occupy a higher tier in the market than Iomega's REV autoloader, it costing only around 2,000 euros compared to Tandberg's near 10,000 euros. One might imagine that REV generation two could double capacity some time in the 2005/2006 period.