StorageTek's new monster tape library, with a massive 200,000 drive slots, is 50 times bigger than the competition's biggest. With the new StreamLine SL8500 library, StorageTek, well known for its Powerwolf and Timberwolf libraries, aims to steal back its storage library crown.

Announced at StorageTek's Forum 2003, the modular library system supports several tape formats -- and a huge number of slots. For comparison, Quantum announced its Mako library a few weeks ago. A single Mako frame can scale up to 20 DLTtape or LTO Ultrium drives and up to 732 slots. A CrossLink mechanism allows the library to expand to five linked frames that are centrally managed to support up to 100 tape drives and up to 3660 LTO2 tapes (slots) for a total capacity of 732TB native. Many consider this capacity insufficient at the upper end of the tape library market.

StreamLine's 200,000 slot capacity offers over 50 times Quantum's maximum and consists of the largest capacity library available for the mainframe, Unix and Windows backup market. It supports StorageTek T9840 and T9940 tape formats as well as mid-range SDLT and LTO 2. It will also support a future technology, known as NGD.

To climb out of its low capacity trough, StorageTek needs a tape format storing 400-500GB and a roadmap out to 1 or 2TB. Previously, the company's biggest offering was its T9940B, with 200GB raw data. IBM's 3592 holds 300GB, as does Quantum's SDLT 600, while Sony's SAIT claims the industry maximum of 500GB on a single cartridge. StorageTek's LTO 3 will hold 400GB when it arrives, probably next year or early 2005, according to the company.

One unsupported format is Sony's SAIT, which is a half inch format and can thus, in theory, be accommodated. This has yet to establish itself in the market and StorageTek is unlikely to offer competitors credibility.

It's also vital for StorageTek that its customers can back up Windows and Unix systems to the same library on which they store mainframe data. StreamLine's support of SDLT and LTO formats provides this much-needed facility, which is becoming common among upper mid-range and enterprise library providers such as ADIC.

Other features of the StreamLine library include multiple robots and hot-swappable, redundant components. It claims anticipated downtime of under one hour per year, when fully configured for availability. Storage density offers 50 cartridges per square foot while the robotics can mount over 1,000 cartridges hourly. A disk cache will be added to StreamLine, which is common in tape libraries, with verification procedures comparing a backup on tape to the disk cache so that errors cause a fresh backup to be written to tape.

Other anticipated additions include automatic media migration from old to new media, driven by settable policies.

StreamLine will be available in the first half of next year at a price yet to be revealed. It is an impressively specified product, and, according to StorageTek, it needs only the company's new tape format to fully restore it to the top of the library tree.