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2/7/2006
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NetApp Introduces Tape-Emulating Disk Storage

New system incorporates DataFort data encryption technology acquired through last year's Decru buyout.

Having acquired encryption appliance vendor Decru and virtual tape library-maker Alacritus Software last year, Network Appliance is debuting this week the fruit of those combined technologies with the release of a new virtual tape library product that's designed to bring improved performance – and integrated encryption – to backup storage environments.

The NetApp NearStore VTL products add some new wrinkles to the technology it acquired in the Alacritus buyout. Virtual tape libraries employ disk-based backup storage that emulates the behavior of tape backup, using tape equipment to manage disk backup, thus beefing up performance and adding a layer of data protection while preserving a company's existing tape backup processes.

NetApp has added what it calls "tape smart sizing" technology that automatically accounts for the fact that data is often compressed before being stored on backup tape, doubling the amount of data that it sends to a single tape. In other words, instead of only half-filling a tape with compressed data, the virtual tape library places twice as much data on backup tapes.

The company also has integrated the virtual tape library with the Decru DataFort encryption appliance, enabling companies to encrypt data either before it's stored on disk or tape, or leaving the data unencrypted on disk but encrypting it before moving it to tape. Such data encryption capabilities are a hot topic given the wave of customer data breaches over the past several months, including a number involving lost data tapes, that have exposed unencrypted personal information. "Wide scale encryption of stored data in the enterprise is a new phenomenon," says Jay Kidd, senior VP and general manager of NetApp's emerging products group.

Companies also have become increasingly jittery about the error-prone nature of tape backup in an era when access to and reliability of backup storage has taken on added importance due to regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley, Gramm-Leach-Bliley and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability acts, says Kidd. Worries that faulty backup processes could make backed up data vulnerable has them scrambling to plug holes in their storage and data protection strategies. "The whole process is filled with angst and concern," Kidd says.

Despite such altruistic goals, NetApp has a more pressing reason to come out with a virtual tape library product now: hanging on to customers. "This is a very natural move for them," says Bob Abraham, analyst with storage research firm Freeman Reports. Abraham says the fact that the likes of IBM, EMC, and HP all have introduced virtual tape library products left NetApp with no choice but to strike a counter blow to keep its competitors from poaching its customers. Still, Abraham says NetApp may be distinguishing itself with the Decru encryption technology, which he believes is ahead of the competition. For instance, Quantum has said it will introduce native encryption in tape drives, but that technology isn't expected until later this year.

The NearStore virtual tape library comes in two configurations. A single-processor version, the NearStore VTL600, delivers 4.5 terabytes of storage on an appliance that lists for $114,000. The VTL600 array can be expanded up to 84 terabytes by purchasing additional 4.5-terabyte shelves for $24,000 each. The NearStore VTL1200 delivers 9 terabytes of storage in a core appliance that costs $170,000, and it can be expanded to as much as 168 terabytes by adding 9 terabyte shelves at $48,000 each.

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