NetApp's Dave Hitz, a founder and exec VP, writes a blog. His February 15th entry on NetApp's virtual tape library (VTL) was great. It constituted terrific answers to questions I would have liked to ask. To save you a key click and scroll bar movement I've copied it below.

Way to go Dave!

Dave Hitz' VTL blog

This is a public service posting. Last week we launched the NearStore VTL (Virtual Tape Library), and I'm going to summarize the marketing message, the cool technology, and the business strategy all in one short blog, along with my own spin. Think of the hours you'll save skipping the official launch, with all its video and white papers. :-)

The Marketing Message
To be honest, there are already quite a few VTL vendors (EMC, HP, IBM, FalconStor), and the message is similar for all of them. This is my version. Almost all of it applies equally to our competitors.

VTL simulates a tape library using disks. Virtual tape is better than real tape because disks are both faster and more reliable than tapes. Since a VTL behaves exactly like a Real-TL, you don't have to change your backup software or backup procedures.

Given that disk is faster and more reliable than tape, the primary benefits are no surprise:

- Reduce your backup window
- Reduce your restore time
- Reduce failure rate of restores

These benefits matter because people's data keeps growing, but at the same time users want less downtime. Tape isn't keeping up.

VTL can't eliminate tape if your operating procedures require you to send tape offsite. Even so, by buffering backups on VTL and then writing to tape, you can get all of the benefits above plus two new ones:

Use fewer tapes by keeping incremental backups in VTL and only writing fulls to tape.
Use fewer tape drives because writing to tape from VTL speeds writes by eliminating tape stops-and-starts, thus writing more tapes per tape drive.

The Cool Technology,BR>Although many of NetApp's VTL capabilities match the competition, it does have two interesting technical innovations: "Continuous Self-Tuning" and "Tape Smart Sizing". As a result, NetApp's VTL is extra fast and uses fewer tapes.

Continuous Self-Tuning ("Extra Fast")
NetApp's VTL automatically decides which backup streams go on which disks. If the load changes, it can change its mind. With other VTLs, the administrator has to manage the mapping between backup streams and disk drives. So ours is both faster and simpler.

A self-tuning storage system that automatically places data efficiently on disk! That sounds just like what WAFL does. You can see why Alacritus was a particularly attractive acquisition target for NetApp.

Tape Smart Sizing ("Uses Fewer Tapes")
Tape drives these days all have built-in compression. If the VTL doesn't understand that, then it won't write as much data as the tape could hold, thus using more tapes than necessary. NetApp's VTL does understand tape compression, so it uses fewer tapes—often a factor of two fewer. (Sounds obvious, but no other VTL vendor does this.)

Business Perspective
What is NetApp up to? I gave a framework for our top level strategy in my article on NetApp's Quantum Leaps. The key point was that our historic focus has been on enhancing our own storage subsystems, but now we are expanding beyond that into heterogeneous data management. Like the Decru encryption appliance, VTL is designed to operate with storage systems from any vendor. Decru and VTL are also similar in that we view both as stand-alone appliances and don't intend to integrate either into ONTAP.

Adding VTL to our product line gives us a larger target market and hence bigger potential revenue and higher growth rates. Equally important, it allows us to have much more interesting conversations with high-level customers.

Before VTL, most of our disk-to-disk backup technology worked only with NetApp storage systems. For CIOs who were not already NetApp customers, this limited our relevance. This was frustrating because NetApp was one of the first vendors to innovate in disk-to-disk backup, with technology like Snapshots (shipped in 1993) and cheap, ATA-based near-line storage (2001). But CIOs don't want to hear about cool technology, they want to hear about broad business relevance, no matter what equipment happens to be in their data center.

By adding VTL to our product portfolio, we can have business discussions about the advantage of disk-to-disk backup, and our long experience helping people implement it, whether or not the potential customer has any NetApp storage.

Summary
VTL (from any vendor) solves all sorts of important business problems. (Shorter backup window, faster restores, higher reliability.)

NetApp's Nearstore VTL has innovations that give it unique advantages. (Extra fast, uses fewer tapes.)

Most importantly, adding VTL to our product line lets us expand into the broader heterogeneous data management market, and it lets us have better business discussions with potential customers.

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I'm posting this in Techworld's Inquisition section because it seems as if Dave Hitz is interviewing himself and giving good answers. This is now a journalism recycling zone!