Jaws 5: Quantum’s MAKO Library

MAKO is a slimmer, more elegant, and more capable implementation of their existing technology that combines several new architectural features that make it worth a look.

The backdrop couldn’t have been more apropos as CTO Michael Del Rosso and Quantum Storage Solutions Group’s Australian marketing team announced the new PX720 tape library, code named "MAKO", in Sydney, Australia. The venue was the “shark walk” – a network of transparent tubes providing a walkway beneath the surface of the Sydney Aquarium in Darling Harbor.

Throughout the brief presentation and Q&A, a number of Great Whites, Black Tips, White Tips, Makos, and other jawed denizens of the deep slipped in and around Del Rosso and company, separated from the attendees by only a few centimeters of plastic. The surreal setting of a makeshift Barrier Reef struck me as a perfect metaphor for the storage industry as a whole, and the data protection market in particular. The big sharks, enterprise-class library vendors, and smaller tape automation fry alike, circled the “corporate” reef hunting for opportunities, while an increasingly large number of nimble competitors, disk-to-disk solution providers, used camouflage and other adaptations to reach the consumer population first.

Clearly, the Quantum folks – despite their foray into the disk-to-disk market with their DX enhanced backup product line – still have a strong tape story to tell. MAKO is a slimmer, more elegant, and more capable implementation of their existing technology that combines several new architectural features that make it worth a look. Key strengths include a dense Performance on Demand (“PoD”) design that enables the library to grow with customer needs, enhanced self-management capabilities and redundancy features (many of which were previously provided as options but now included in the basic purchase price), and flexible support for a broad range of connection options and half-inch tape drive options, including SuperDLT, LTO Ultrium and potentially Sony SuperAIT.

MAKO is Quantum at the top of their game, reflecting a tremendous effort to provide consumers with exactly what they have been asking for in tape. Apparently, the company has been talking to the right people to gather feedback on consumer needs, a difficult task given the trend in most storage vendor shops to abandon expensive direct sales models in favor of channel resellers and solution integrators. One must assume that either the company’s field engineers are very good listeners or Quantum’s resellers are better than most at reporting back what customers need rather than what they need in terms of margins on sales.

According to many tape vendors, the blush is off the rose in their technology area. Consumers are attracted to inexpensive “ghetto RAID” arrays based on inexpensive serial ATA disk as a data replication target. This view is bolstered by array vendor claims around the lower expense and greater utility of disk versus tape. However, savvy consumers know that comparing disk to tape based on media cost alone is erroneous. To replicate data over any distance using disk introduces a raft of issues having to do with multi-hop mirroring and speed-of-light induced latencies that can quickly swell the price of the solution beyond that of a tape-based backup. Additionally, while new software is in the works for cross-platform data replication, until it arrives disk-to-disk generally requires a voluntary lock-in on the part of a consumer to a single array vendor’s products both locally and at a remote backup site. Tape remains the one reliable mechanism for re-hosting data on the fly to alternative platforms following a disaster. As a veteran of many disaster recovery efforts, I can testify to the importance of this data restore flexibility in getting the company back into operation in the wake of an interruption.

Quantum stresses density improvements in its current product, repeating a mantra heard over and over again these days. Each frame can hold up to 20 drives and 732 tape cartridges in a small footprint. When requirements grow to exceed the capacity of a single MAKO frame, the CrossLink mechanism allows the library to expand up to five linked MAKO frames that are centrally managed to support up to 100 tape drives and up to 3,660 cartridges for a total native storage capacity of up to 732 TB with current half-inch tape.

According to Del Rosso, a typical enterprise configuration will include eight drives, 718 slots, native Fibre Channel connectivity, redundant power and cabling, library management and training for $223,050 MSRP. Base configurations will start below $93,000 MSRP.

Even as the product comes to market, however, look for similar aggressive price and performance improvements to be made to Quantum’s DX line with the pending release of DX100. DX was originally conceived as a drop-in to Quantum’s existing tape user base. It emulated a Quantum library while providing a speedier target for writing back-up streams (by leveraging faster disk write speeds). Going forward, DX should evolve into more than a tape emulation play. It may well serve as a pure disk-to-disk replication platform with a back-end hook-up to a tape library, providing a more robust value proposition by serving (1) as a disk cache, (2) as a quick restore architecture, (3) as a staging area where interesting and useful things can be done to data (like commonality factoring to reduce backup set size, anti-virus scanning, encryption, etc.) before driving the data, in a third-party data movement process, to back-end, high performance MAKO libraries using less expensive and higher performance Gigabit Ethernet with Jumbo Frames instead of Fibre Channel. Such a configuration would give Quantum (or any other vendor fielding such an architecture) a classic one-two punch in data protection.

MAKO is a building block in many ways and well worth the consideration of readers of this column. Let me know what you think: jtoigo@intnet.net

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.