Volume 9, Number 20 -- May 19, 2009

Gresham Targets System i Shops with VTL Solution

Published: May 19, 2009

by Alex Woodie

One of the vendors displaying at the COMMON conference for the first time last month was Gresham Enterprise Storage, an Austin, Texas, business that develops and sells a virtual tape library (VTL) appliance called Clareti Storage Director. Gresham recently installed the Clareti storage appliance at its first System i shop, and now the company is building its business in the System i marketplace, which is ripe for more VTL options besides FalconStor, officials with Gresham say.

Clareti Storage Director was developed in-house by Gresham Enterprise Storage, which is the U.S. arm of Gresham Computing, a U.K. company that develops financial software for large companies. The group got its start decades ago, developing an enterprise media management system called Enterprise Distribu Tape that was widely used among some of the largest IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) shops.

Two years ago, it launched Clareti Storage Director. From the very beginning, Gresham honored its legacy in the tape market by designing Clareti to augment existing tape systems, not to replace them. After all, thanks to new regulations, tape will not go away any time soon, company officials say.

Clareti Storage Director can significantly accelerate backups. Like all VTLs, it accomplishes this by streaming backup data from the server to the disk-based cache, which is configured to emulate a tape drive that the server understands--an IBM 3580 LTO drive and a 3584 LTO tape library, in the case of System i.

Users can create as many virtual tape connections as they need, and then send the data to disk via Fibre Channel, or, soon, iSCSI. Since spinning disk has much higher I/O capability than all but the latest generation "super" tape drives, such as the LTO 4, just getting away from direct tape connections to LTO 3-generation gear and older usually speeds backup times by a factor of four or more, company officials say.

Another benefit offered by Clareti Storage Director is the capability to work with a multitude of different operating systems and tape drive technologies. Since the device can recognize and emulate many different types of tape drives and tape libraries for backend connections, it allows customers to get more use out of their tape investments, and eliminate the need to maintain different tape "silos" for each platform.

In this way, a System i shop could utilize tape libraries for which there are no available drivers, such as the StorageTek T10000, a very high end tape library. (Gresham cannot emulate quarter-inch [QIC] tape technology on the low end; however there shouldn't be much of this very old gear left in the field.)

To VTL or Not to VTL

Gresham markets the Clareti Storage Director as a VTL device, because that's the closest descriptor. But the company stresses that it's not a true VTL device, owing to the product's close affinity to backend tape libraries, its media-marking capabilities, and Gresham's long history in the tape field, according to Ed Ahl, North American vice president of sales and marketing for Gresham Enterprise Storage.

"We typically say that we work like a VTL, but we're not necessarily the same as a VTL because typically VTLs are disk-based libraries," Ahl says. "Our technology is really designed around using disk as a cache mechanism, not as a final resting place. With a small amount of disk cache, we can literally manage petabytes of storage utilizing tape on the back end."

Clareti Storage Director uses a policy-based system to control the backups and the disk cache. Users can configure the device to keep a certain number of incremental or full backups on disk for quick recovery. After the data has been moved from disk to the backend tape device, the data on the cache is overwritten, unless it's been configured to reside there permanently.

Setting up the size of the disk cache is usually the biggest decision that goes into a Clareti Storage Director installation. Users can get started with a box with 5 TB of cache for about $20,000. If that's not enough to support all the backup data a customer needs to cache before sending it off to tape on the backend, then more devices can be strung together.

The system can also be used for archiving data to tape, or migrating data from one type of tape drive to another. Support for replication means that customers can replicate data from one Clareti device at the production tactility to a second Clareti device at the secondary facility, providing an element of disaster recovery. Alternatively, because the device outputs data in its native format, a System i shop could recover data directly from a tape generated from the Clariti Storage Director, without going through the device. Gresham also provides its own encryption and compression capabilities.

For data de-duplication--currently a hot area in the VTL market--Gresham's partnership with Quantum and certification on Quantum's DXi-Series array provides System i customers with access to data de-duplication technology. In fact, Quantum and Gresham just last week announced the certification, which is being heavily targeted at System i customers.

Connecting to i Systems

Supporting the System i server was easy for Gresham. In fact, company engineers just plugged Clareti Storage Director into a black box on a whim one day, and it came up as an LTO drive. The only problem was it appeared as a Sun LTO drive, so a little finagling in the Clareti software was required to get the device to appear as IBM 3580 and IBM 3584 drives to System i servers.

Gresham emphasizes the simplicity of using Clareti Storage Director with System i servers. "Your operations don't change. Everything you currently do, it does not change," Ahl says. "We run with BRMS, we run with all the utilities (including backup products from Help/Systems and LXI). Any application that sees tape, sees us as an IBM tape drive."

Gresham recently hired former System i administrator Chuck Rogers to help with the System i sales and support effort. "Everybody hears about VTL, but there wasn't much interest in the iSeries world," Rogers says. "In all my years as a system administrator, this would have instantly gained my attention if I would have ever seen anything like this before, which I had not."

The best part about the Clareti Storage Director is it virtualizes the same iSeries hardware that customers have always used, Rogers says. "To me that was just a major advantage. I could use my normal iSeries technologies, and bring in something new like Storage Director, with a very minimal impact, with no additional training. Administrators can start using it with no problems at all."

Using the f Word

Gresham recently installed Clareti Storage Director in its first System i shop, a Fortune 500 company in the commercial real estate business that did not approve its name being used for press or marketing purposes. The installation--which included primary and secondary sites and a Quantum LTO 4 tape library--went well, and now Gresham is ramping up its business activities, including looking for more channel partners and resellers in the System i market.

While the System i world is not a hotbed of VTL activity, there are still a couple of hundred thousand boxes spread across the world, which makes it a viable market for Gresham. The company prefers to not compete against tier-one storage players like EMC, but it realizes it's going to be compared to that conspicuous VTL company whose name starts with "F."

"Their solution is good. Don't get me wrong," says Ahl, who used to work for FalconStor before taking the VP job at Gresham. "They've been out in the business. They're the big guy."

The biggest difference between FalconStor and Gresham, according to Ahl, is that FalconStor's VTL solution is designed to work as a disk-based library, whereas Clareti Storage Director is aimed at providing a virtual interface to backend tape-based libraries. "Their backend functionality is nowhere close to what we provide. For us tape is an integrated part of solution. We look and function like tape. We even use tape marks."

From tape media management to VTL to a fly in FalconStor's ointment, you can expect to hear more about Gresham and how it can help System i shops with their storage needs. For more information, visit the company's Web site at www.gresham-storage.com.

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