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IBM looks to accelerate mainframe data backups

IBM has announced that its line of virtual tape storage devices will soon be able to connect discs used in data backup applications to mainframes via Fibre Channel links, potentially increasing data transfer rates by up to 75%.

The company also said it is upgrading its management software for the virtual tape servers, which look like tape drives to mainframes but record data onto discs to speed up the backup process. The data can then be downloaded offline to tape silos.

In addition, IBM rolled out a new model of its 3590 tape drive that can record 50% more data on tape cartridges than earlier versions. The 3590 Model H drive uses a new 384-track magnetic recording head, the company said. In comparison, IBM's older B and E models can write 256 tracks of data on a single cartridge.

IBM's Virtual Tape Server (VTS) B10 and B20 devices will get support for linking to mainframes through IBM's Fibre Connection channel attachment technology, which is based on Fibre Channel and referred to as Ficon.

The technology supports peak data bandwidth of 100MB/sec, more than five times the 17MB/sec ceiling for IBM's proprietary Enterprise System Connection channels.

The Ficon links are scheduled to become available in September and are priced at $150,000 (£97,266) for the underlying enablement technology, plus $30,000 (£19,450) for each channel. A performance accelerator feature that lets the VTS controller use additional processors is due in January at a list price of $100,000 (£64,844), IBM said.

Dianne McAdam, an analyst at Illuminata, said the Ficon support will help reduce data backup times for mainframe users who rely on VTS subsystems.

The upgraded management software is also a step forward for IBM, McAdam said. The company's virtual tape technology has lagged behind that of rival Storage Technology, she said, adding, "This is IBM getting on the same level of what StorageTek had in the past."

IBM said the VTS Advanced Policy Management upgrade will support volume pooling, which lets storage administrators save similar data on a single group of tape cartridges. For example, if a company has customer data related to a specific business unit, that information can automatically be saved to one set of tapes, simplifying data archiving.

The software, which is scheduled for release in September, will also include a dual-copy feature that automatically creates two copies of data for disaster recovery purposes. The package has a list price of $30,000 (£19,450) for new users; upgrades for existing VTS installations start at $5,000 (£3,242).

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