Organizations that rely on cumbersome, slow-to-retrieve tape-based storage for protecting their data will now be able to back it up and restore it more quickly with inexpensive disk-based storage arrays, EMC and Dell have announced.

EMC has opted to put low-cost Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) drives into its Clariion storage systems as an option alongside current Fibre Channel drives, said Chuck Hollis, vice president of markets and products at EMC.

The ATA drives could attract users who are willing to spend extra to purchase a disk-based storage system for tasks currently handled by slower tape drives, such as large pools of data for image archiving, hierarchical storage management or replication and data movement. EMC along with its storage partner Dell will make the drives available in the Clariion CX400 and CX600 mid-range storage arrays, Hollis said.

"We think this will help bridge a gap between people looking for high performance Fibre Channel drives and cost-effective but somewhat slow tape," Hollis said.

EMC has long promoted the use of disk-based storage as way to help customers keep much of their data readily available to users and to increase back up and restore speeds. Many companies, however, still use tape for archiving data because of its low cost. This latest move by EMC and Dell toward ATA drives could give ATA a boost in this battle between disk and tape, according to one analyst.

"EMC is traditionally a very cautious conservative company," said Tony Prigmore, senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group. "Now what you are seeing is very rapid adoption of a technology you wouldn't expect the incumbent [storage vendor] to be first to market with. No one expected EMC to do this that fast."

Analysts say that ATA drives, which are commonly used in PCs and servers, allow backup operations at as much as eight times the speed of tape-based media for a cost that approaches that of tape. EMC has found that such drives can do back-up operations in one third the amount of time as tape and restore tasks 80% faster than with tape, Hollis said.

The Enterprise Storage Group said 1G-byte of ATA disk space will cost $1.44 compared to $0.99 for Linear Tape Open (LTO) I tape drives; by contrast, 1G-byte of Fibre Channel storage averages $63.20, as much as 40 times as much as ATA.

EMC and Dell expect customers that have already been looking to move some of their data off tape to go after the new ATA products. In addition, the companies are looking for telecommunication vendors, media companies and government bodies to look into the technology as a way of increasing the speed at which they can access large pools of information.

Using ATA drives for backing up data and tape for archiving data is not new. Vendors of network-attached storage and JBODs (Just a Bunch of Disks) such as Network Appliance, Quantum, StorageTek, ATTO Technology and Avamar Technologies already ship ATA-based arrays for backing up data. EMC uses ATA disks in its Centera array for storing data such as digital images that doesn't change over time.

The ATA enclosure starts at $21,000 with a 1.25T-byte capacity and is available immediately from EMC and Dell. If the customer does not have an existing CX system, the price is $127,000 for the CX array with 10T bytes of capacity.

In addition to the disk announcement, EMC will offer new storage software for its Clariion CX arrays that lets customers migrate and distribute data between Clariion or EMC Symmetrix storage arrays locally. Called EMC SAN Copy, the software can be used to transfer large chunks of data from one system to another at the rate of close to 4T bytes an hour, Hollis said.

The software could be used, for example, to move information from a production system to a test system for application tuning. The software could also be used for large back-ups or for shifting information from an older system to a new one. The software is available immediately stating at $18,000.

EMC has started a data migration services program to shift users from HP StorageWorks systems onto its own hardware using the SAN Copy software.

Ashlee Vance is a correspondent with the IDG News Service, a Network World affiliate