XenData has announced stand-alone data tape drive support for the Video Edition of its Archive Series software. There have been several storage products launched in the past few months aimed at the specific needs of digital video producers and suppliers. XenData's new product brings virtual tape functionality to a lower price level and may well appeal to smaller businesses in this field.

XenData launched the Video Edition of its Archive Series software in January 2005 for digital video archive applications using a data tape library. Now, with support of stand-alone tape drives, an entry-level solution is available at low cost.

The new software manages one or more tape drives on a Windows file server to create a high performance storage set-up designed for professional video and audio applications. It runs on Windows Server 2003 and the tape drives appear as a Windows logical drive letter with a standard file system interface. It means that individual files can be written to, and read from, data tape as though from a magnetic disk. (Data tape and not video tape.)

The system delivers fast transfer rates and fast seek times by using a disk cache on the Windows server. With native transfer rates in the range 240 - 640 Mbit/s for LTO, SAIT and SDLT tape drives, the XenData virtual tape-like product makes data transfers many times faster than real time, even for hard disk.

Offline Video Archive
The software is suited for managing a large offline digital video archive. The disk cache not only provides file caching but is also used to retain file and directory information for tape cartridges that are held 'on the shelf'. When a tape cartridge is ejected from a drive, the files that it contains continue to appear in the (Windows server 2003) file system. If access is attempted to a file located on such an offline tape cartridge, the system will provide notification that identifies the particular tape cartridge on which the file is held.

By using a companion product, the XenData Alert Module, the notification may be delivered by e-mail or on-screen messaging.

All aspects of the system conform to either Windows or open standards. The system will store and retrieve all file formats, as if being stored on disk; the data format written to tape is the open standard TAR format; file security and access permissions fully adhere to the Microsoft security model based on Active Directory. This emphasis on standards ensures longevity of the product and it contrasts with traditional digital video archiving products which use proprietary management software.

Tape formats
The software supports a wide range of tape formats including LTO-2, LTO-3, SAIT-1, AIT and SDLT 600 tape formats. SAIT-1 and LTO-3 offer the highest native capacities of 500 GB and 400 GB, respectively, which allow many hours of digital video to be stored on each cartridge.

For example, each SAIT cartridge will hold over 44 hours of video recorded at 25 Mbit/s. The high capacity of such data tapes means that they offer much lower media costs per hour of stored content. For large video archives, this leads to significant cost savings.

The XenData software also supports a system with both a tape library and stand-alone drives. Chris Stone, sales and marketing VP for Breece Hill, likes this aspect: "The combination of a small tape library and a stand-alone drive is particularly attractive. The tape library automates the writing process and the stand-alone drives are then used for fast retrieval of files held on offline tape cartridges."

Alan Sund, a Sony general manager for tape storage solutions, was also complementary: "We greatly appreciate our relationship with XenData, as it continues to be at the industry forefront for supporting our tape products' unique features, including both standard read/write as well as WORM functionality."

Write once, read-many (WORM) functionality is also available for LTO formats.

General availability of the stand-alone drive support is scheduled for mid-March this year and the software price starts at under $4,000 (c£2,400) for a single drive system.