Backing Up Is Not Always Hard to Do

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Most data center managers and system operators don’t think too much about the tape subsystems they use to archive their data and applications until something goes terribly wrong. The day many system operators need to re-create all or part of their systems is the day many IT managers learn that they have bought the wrong technology. This article highlights the latest tape archiving technology for AS/400 servers and helps you choose the option that will best meet your requirements.

A few years ago, the only practical tape backup alternative for many AS/400 shops, especially those with multiple gigabytes of disk file capacity on their machines, was an expensive mainframe-style 3480/3490 1/2-inch cartridge tape drive from IBM. Luckily for AS/400 shops, IBM and myriad other plug-compatible vendors have adopted a wide assortment of tape technologies—often based on the high-speed, high-capacity tape decks used in the video recording industry and sometimes pulled from other server lines—for use with AS/400s. AS/400 tape drives with tape autoloaders or low-end tape libraries now offer archiving capacity and performance that was not even dreamed of in the mid-1990s. This article examines the primary offerings of the major vendors in the AS/400 tape market. It is not possible to cover all tape technologies within this article, but the analysis below is a starting point. Please see the Midrange Computing AS/400 Online Yellow Pages at for a more thorough listing of tape storage vendors. For pricing information and more detailed tape drive specifications on the products in this article, check out the table at

IBM Corporation

IBM ( is, as one might expect, the primary tape drive and library vendor at AS/400 shops. Right now, IBM is pushing four tape drives and two tape libraries among its medium and large AS/400 shops. (Small AS/400s can generally get by with the 1/4-inch tape drives that are designed by IBM Rochester specifically for low-end machines.) While IBM also sells 8 mm and 3480-style tape drives for its AS/400 customers, the company is more interested in pushing its 3590 Magstar and 3570 Magstar

MP products. The Magstar units may be more costly than older technology IBM tape drives, but they offer higher capacities and faster data transfer rates.

The 3570 drive comes in two basic flavors. The B series uses a 3570 drive that can push data at 2.2 MB per second, while the C series, which includes 5 MB of cache memory in the drive, can push data at 7 MB per second. When compression is on, the Bs can handle 6.6 MB per second, while the Cs can handle 15 MB per second. Both the 3570 B and C models store 5 GB of data per cartridge in a 128-track format, with up to 15 GB per tape with LZ1 data compression. The base model 3570-B00 drive costs $8,500, while the C00 drive costs $14,900. A 20-cartridge standalone or rack-mounted library (with between 100 and 300 GB of unattended capacity) costs $6,400 for B models and $5,000 for C models.

For AS/400 shops that need the fastest backup times, IBM sells the 3590 Magstar tape drive. The new 3590-E11 is a rack-mounted drive with a 10-cartridge autoloader, while the 3590-E1A is a special Magstar drive used in 3494 libraries. Both models store data in a unique 256-track format that allows IBM to pack 20 GB of plain data on a single tape (or 60 GB with LZ1 compression). The 3590 can feed data at 18 MB per second on plain data and 34 MB per second on AS/400s with compressed data. The 3590-E11 costs $46,500. IBM’s 3494 libraries cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and provide hundreds of gigabytes to hundreds of terabytes of archiving capacity.

ai business technologies, inc.

Formerly known as American International, ai business technologies, inc. ( has been in the AS/400 peripherals market for as long as there have been AS/400s. The company and its partner, Computer Lab International, Incorporated (CLI) (, sell Sony Corporation and Exabyte Corporation Mammoth 8 mm decks as well as Quantum Corporation digital linear tape (DLT) drives modified for use with AS/400s and open system servers by ai business technologies. The Mammoth tape drive was designed by Exabyte, the Colorado storage company that first modified the Sony 8 mm video deck for use with computers. (Sony and Exabyte have since gone their separate ways; Sony is now pushing the 8 mm Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT) drive, while Exabyte sells the 8 mm Mammoths.) The Mammoth desktop drive can store 40 GB of compressed data on a single 8 mm tape and 80 GB for a two-drive unit. ai’s most capacious DLT offering is the GG-11D7/21D7 series. These use a DLT deck that offers 70 GB of compressed capacity per drive (commonly called the DLT7000) and has a sustained data rate of 10 GB per second (compressed). CLI and ai also sell autoloader units (with 10- or 20-cartridge capacities) for between $11,500 and $21,100 that raise the unattended capacity of their drives to 140 to 800 GB depending on the model.

BCC Technologies

BCC Technologies ( has been very aggressive in the AS/400 tape subsystem and library market for the past several years (just as it has been aggressive selling AS/400 clone memory against IBM and forcing Big Blue to drop its prices). BCC sells six different tape drives using advanced Sony, Exabyte, and Tandberg Data decks. The newest is the BCC 9191-Axx, which uses the new Sony AIT2 tape deck. The 9191 can store up to 50 GB of uncompressed data on a single tape (150 GB with the Sony-IBM ALDC data compression algorithm) and transfer data at up to 6 MB per second (18 MB per second compressed). A single-deck 9191 sells for $12,250.

BCC also sells tape subsystems that use Exabyte’s 8 mm Mammoth, Quantum Corporation’s DLT, Tandberg Data’s SLR, and Plasmon’s Next Compatible Tape Product (NCTP) tape drives, which are popular in the UNIX and PC server markets, but that are not frequently used in the AS/400 space because they have lower data transfer rates than Sony and Exabyte decks. BCC also sells tape library configurations that offer from 54 GB to 9 TB of unattended backup capacity; library prices range from $15,000 to $100,705. BCC also offers its own backup software for AS/400s as well as its own tape controllers, both of which can substantially boost the archiving performance of its products. BCC is

also one of the few vendors that offers real-world tape performance benchmarks; they are available on its Web site.

Computer Source Technologies

Computer Source Technologies ( is one of the first AS/400 tape vendors to support the NCTP tape deck developed by Philips Laser Magnetic Storage. Philips, which was acquired by Plasmon in January, created the tape decks used in IBM’s 3490E Model E tape drives for AS/400s and RS/6000s and developed NCTP as an alternative to IBM’s Magstar drive. The NCTP deck can read 3490-style 1/2-inch cartridges but writes data in a new format that allows it to pack 18 GB of data onto a single tape and three times that amount with LZ1 data compression. The NCTP deck can transfer data at 10 MB per second in native format and 18 MB per second on compressed data. A base-model NCTP drive from Computer Source Technologies costs $22,500, and autoloaders holding 7, 14, or 21 cartridges (for between 380 GB and 1.1 TB of unattended capacity) are also available.


Cybernetics ( sells a variety of disk, tape, and optical subsystems for use with various kinds of midrange servers, including AS/400s. The CY- 8050 is based on the Sony AIT drive, which offers 50 GB tape capacity and 6 MB per second data transfer rates (double those statistics with data compression). Cybernetics also sells older 8 mm tape drives (which are presumably less expensive than the 8050, but since Cybernetics does not give out list prices, it is hard to say for certain) and a wide range of libraries that use its 8 mm tape drives. The libraries range in total capacity from 420 GB to
15.8 TB. Cybernetics also sells a series of DLT tape subsystems and libraries that are based on the popular line of DLT decks from Quantum.

Decision Data

While it may not have been a big force in the tape market over the past several years, Decision Data ( has a vast installed base of tape equipment at AS/400 shops, and, now that it is in the process of being acquired by NLynx Systems (, expect the Decision Data name behind a new line of AS/400 tape storage products. As we go to press, NLynx is in the process of completing the acquisition.

MP Tapes

MP Tapes, Inc. ( was founded in 1996 and is a relative newcomer to the AS/400 tape subsystem market, but its founders have lots of experience designing tape drives. The company currently sells three AS/400 tape subsystems; they support IBM 3480, 3490, and 3490E formats. The most modern of these is the MP Model 8436F, which is similar to IBM’s 3490E Model F drives. It offers 800 MB (uncompressed) to 2.4 GB (compressed) capacity per tape but can move data at 6 to 9 MB per second. MP Tapes is currently developing the MP 8590, a clone of IBM’s 3590 Magstar tape drive. In addition to tape drives, MP Tapes sells 10-cartridge autoloaders for its MP-8400 series of tape drives, which boost unattended capacity to 6 to 24 GB.

Overland Data

Unlike most tape vendors in the midrange, Overland Data ( has primarily focused on selling DLT-based tape drives and tape libraries. Overland Data, which has been a public company since 1997, has been selling tape products since its founding in 1980. The company got its start in low-end tape drives and made a name for itself selling 9-track tapes for the then-fledgling PC market. In 1994, Overland starting selling tape drives that were compatible with IBM’s 3480 drives and gradually introduced low-end 3490-type devices that competed against IBM’s 3490E tapes in the midrange marketplace. Since 1996, Overland has been focusing on DLT drives and tape libraries that provide between 50 GB and 5 TB of tape storage capacity.


Like IBM, StorageTek ( has made significant investments in advancing mainframe tape drive and library technologies and making them available to AS/400 customers. The company’s 4480, Silverton 4490, and TimberLine 9490 tape drives are roughly equivalent to IBM’s 3480/3490 mainframe units. In addition to these 3480/3490-style drives, StorageTek sells two proprietary tape technologies. The RedWood SD3 is a helical scan tape drive that uses 3480-style cartridges and can store 50 GB of uncompressed data on a single cartridge. The SD3 can move data at about 11 MB per second (uncompressed) and comes in models with one to four transports. A base-model SD3 costs $150,000. The newest StorageTek drive is the 9840, which uses another proprietary format that can store up to 20 GB on a single tape (uncompressed) and move data at between 10 and 18 MB per second, and it costs $27,400.

StorageTek is perhaps best known for its tape libraries, which have exotic names like PowderHorn, WolfCreek, and TimberWolf. All of StorageTek’s drives work in conjunction with its libraries, which are the same price and capacity range as IBM’s 3494 libraries: from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars for hundreds of GB to hundreds of TB of archive capacity.

Decisions, Decisions...

One final note: While the competition among tape deck and tape subsystem suppliers has led to considerable innovation, the proliferation of tape technologies has not made choosing a tape drive any easier. If anything, it is harder to reckon which formats will last into the future. Just remember, when you buy hardware to support your archiving needs, you have to spread it out over only a few years. You are not buying for a decade- long time horizon as you used to in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Odds are, you will change tape technology within the next five years no matter which type you buy simply because vendors will be offering new—and probably incompatible—formats that offer speed and capacity benefits you will not be able to do without.