As with so many other tape library vendors, Qualstar started life back in the mid-80s manufacturing 9-track reel-to-reel tape drives for the mainframe industry. It still continues to make them, thanks to a strong data interchange market, but has since gone on to produce an impressive range of tape libraries. The RLS libraries are the latest to join this extensive family and represent the entry-point of Qualstar’s product range. Even so, they offer a remarkable range of features that includes a very high storage capacity and good format support. The RLS-4445 on review came equipped with two Sony AIT-3 drives but the library supports SDLT, LTO and S-AIT as well. Build quality is a key feature and something Qualstar is quite proud of. This 5U chassis is made of solid steel and all components are easily accessible for maintenance, or replacement. The RLS-4445 can be upgraded to support a maximum of four AIT-2 or AIT-3 drives and an optional adapter can be fitted which allows the drives to be hot-swapped without having to restart the library. A smart backlit LCD display and control pad at the front is used for manual configuration, loading and unloading cartridges, positioning the medium changer and setting the IP address of the management port. Qualstar offers a selection of IPM’s (interface personality modules) which fit into a bay at the rear to provide different connections. The base unit comes with a serial port for local management access and SCSI ports for the medium changer but you can opt for a 2Gbps fibre channel version for integration into a SAN. The review model also provided a 10BaseT Ethernet port for remote management via Qualstar’s Q-Link browser interface. Two large windows in the lockable front door provide a clear glimpse into library operations. Beneath is an air filter to ensure no contaminants are drawn in by the cooling fans. All change
The medium changer moves across the width of the library. One very smart feature is that it maintains its own internal database to keep track of cartridge positions and bar-code information. The media storage section is the most interesting as it uses a unique carousel system that travels in a rectangle. Coined a ‘storage array’, it holds up to nine, five-slot magazines and can turn in either direction to reduce access times. With room for up to 45 cartridges the review system offers a total capacity of 4.5TB. Yet another useful feature is the Inventory Sentry which is an infra-red beam that detects if cartridges have been disturbed when the door is opened. Many libraries need only the slightest excuse to run a tedious and time-consuming inventory but if nothing has been moved the RLS-4445 will not do this. The browser interface provides plenty of access to the library and magazines along with comprehensive status readouts of installed components including the drives, power supplies and even the front door. You can also create a list of users and determine which components they are allowed to view and control. Installation is straightforward enough and requires the drive and medium changer SCSI interfaces to be linked together and then connected to the host system. We used Veritas Backup Exec for Windows Servers 9.1 for testing, which identified the library correctly and provided access to all slots and drives. Qualstar provides plenty of internal sensors and a switch on front will relay a warning to the backup software if the front door is opened. We had no problems creating backup and restore tasks leaving the library to find the relevant tapes required for each job. General performance for the AIT-3 drives is good with them delivering average backup transfer rates of 756MB/min while verification and restore tasks returned 733MB/min and 526MB/min respectively. We also found that Backup Exec allowed us to reconfigure the slots by placing them in multiple virtual partitions that appeared as separate devices. The RLS series of libraries is a versatile family as you can configure them to deliver a performance and capacity dependant on your budget. They are easily expanded to cope with demand and at the highest level the S-AIT version can deliver no less than 22TB of backup capacity making Qualstar a top choice for enterprise level backup.

OUR VERDICT

It’s so easy to outgrow your backup capacity and never more so than in the enterprise. Libraries are the natural choice at this level and Qualstar’s RLS series delivers a fine combination of build quality and storage capacity. But, more importantly, it teams them up with good expansion options, allowing them to cope easily with future demand.