Ulysses is a great character in ancient Greek culture. His main heroic trait is his cunning intelligence, often manifested by his use of disguise and deceptive speech - which brings us to tape libraries. What Imation has done is to produce a technology where a backup application thinks a tape library contains an LTO 2 tape drive. In fact it's a disk drive pretending to be a tape drive. The tape library robotics fetch and carry cartridges to this drive assuming they are tape cartridges. Not so; they are disk drives with a tape cartridge-like wrapping.

Once a disk is loaded into the 'pretend LTO 2 drive' then it accesses backup data faster than a tape because there is no streaming involved. The Ulysses read/write performance, at 30 Megabytes per second, is similar to tape; however, its random access technology delivers fast disk file access speeds for restore operations.

The tape library, the automated data protection media library, still provides a vaulted data protection store with time needed to fetch and carry cartridges to drives, but the time to access files after cartridge mounting is greatly reduced. It means a tape library can respond to the file restore time speed-up challenge posed by disk-to-disk (D2D) backup while still providing traditional tape library virtues: great capacity; ease of data management; sharing of data protection resources between many servers. It also suggests having a two-tier tape library in information lifecycle management (ILM) terms.

Imation calls this its Ulysses technology. It is working with Sun's Storage Group to integrate this technology into StorageTek tape libraries, and also with Qualstar to integrate it into its libraries.

In January this year Sun and Imation announced that they are working toward development and launch of an extension to existing Sun/StorageTek 9840 tape drives. Sun will begin testing and integration of Imation’s Ulysses technology into Sun’s tape library product line.

The 9840 is a fast access/relatively low capacity tape format compared to the 9940, a capacity-centric drive. Using serial ATA (SATA) disk technology to provide a 9840-class format would continue the direction of high performance and relatively lower capacity compared to 9940/T10000-class tapes. A 2.5 inch SATA drive with perpendicular recording can hold 160GB of data, compared to the 500GB offered by the T10000 format.

In tape terms these are raw data capacities. Any tape file backup compression would have the same effect whether the file was stored on disk or tape, possibly doubling the raw capacity.

Imation and Sun have had a long standing relationship as customer and supplier which grew closer when Sun completed the acquisition of StorageTek, one of Imation’s major OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners. Imation was the development partner for tape cartridges used with the StorageTek 9840 and 9940 automated tape libraries.

Imation is also an approved supplier to Sun of LTO-2 and LTO-3 tape cartridges, media for the Sun StorageTek T10000 tape drive.

Qualstar also announced in January this year that it will integrate Imation Ulysses removable disk-as-tape technology in some models of its automated tape libraries. Qualstar reckons this would yield significant cost, density, performance and flexibility benefits in a single data protection system. It would reduce or eliminate the need for separate disk subsystems, often requiring additional software and increased storage management expense.

Qualstar will initially offer Ulysses technology in the 8216H and 8404H models of its RLS-Series tape library family. Ulysses emulators would be combined with LTO 2 tape drives within these libraries. Intermixing disk and tape cartridges gives users options and flexibility to structure their storage tiers to leverage the advantages of both disk and tape within the same library.

The RLS library transparently handles Ulysses and LTO cartridges. The Ulysses emulator appears to the system as an LTO tape drive, allowing seamless integration into existing data protection applications.

“We believe that the Ulysses solution represents a significant addition to the storage options that users have been accustomed to,” said William Gervais, Qualstar president. “Combining the cost and density advantages of tape libraries with the access time and media life of disk changes the storage landscape.”

At the time Qualstar said RLS libraries containing Ulysses technology would begin shipping at the beginning of next quarter, i.e., April, 2006.

Coming home
In the Odyssey, the epic Greek poem that describes the adventures of Ulysses (aka Odysseus), he finally does return to Ithaca and regains his throne, reunites with his son, metes out justice to the suitors, and reunites with his faithful wife Penelope. Basically everything comes good after long trials. Imation, along with Sun and Qualstar, must hope that Imation's Ulysses comes good without having to undergo quite as much struggling over quite as much time.