Cybernetics Banks on IBM i Storage Expertise
October 21, 2014 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops have many options when it comes to selecting a virtual tape library (VTL) provider, including a software-based solution that runs on the Power Systems server itself. While you may not be familiar with the name Cybernetics, the storage device manufacturer is quite familiar with the IBM i line of servers, and has provided VTLs, SANs, and tape backup solutions to many IBM i clients over the past 25 years.
Privately held Cybernetics has been designing and selling storage solutions since it was founded in 1978. Today the Yorktown, Virginia-based company sells everything from high-end SANs equipped with up to a petabyte of storage to entry-level LTO tape drives. But the sweet spot of the Cybernetics lineup is the VTLs that the company has been selling to AS/400 shops since the mid-1990s.
“We started shipping VTLs in 1992 that supported SCSI, bus and tag, and ESCON fiber channel interfaces, many years before the technology became widely accepted,” says Steve Jones, a senior sales engineer with Cybernetics. “Because of our experience with tape emulation–necessary to connect non-IBM tape drives to IBM servers–we were able to easily connect our VTLs to the AS/400 line and promptly began supporting IPL.”
Over the years, the company has served the storage needs of many AS/400, iSeries, System i, and Power Systems shops among its 10,000 customers around the world. While many VTL and disk-based backup vendors struggle to spell IBM i, Cybernetics displays a familiarity with the platform that can only be gained through experience.
For example, its support for IPL and Option 21 full system saves demonstrate that the company knows its IBM i technology. In addition to support for native IBM i backup commands, the company offers experience and support for working with the BRMS facility from IBM as well as Robot/SAVE, the third-party backup utility from HelpSystems.
Since Cybernetics designs and manufacturers its own storage products, it pays close attention to the idiosyncrasies of certain platforms, including how data de-duplication works on IBM i data compared to other platforms.
Data stored on the IBM i platform is often both highly compressible and responsive to data de-duplication. However, the company says that other storage vendors tend to overestimate how well data de-duplication works on the IBM i. Competitors will often claim their offerings can reduce data by 20 or 30 to 1, Jones says, but then deliver only an 8 to 1 reduction. “Cybernetics’ implementation of deduplication routinely averages 50:1 at IBM i sites, with many sites seeing many 100s:1,” Jones says.
Similarly, Cybernetics claims that its VTLs do not lose performance over time. “Many competitors lose speed after being implemented for a year,” Jones says. “Three years from now, a Cybernetics virtual tape library will be just as fast as the day it was deployed. As the customer’s data grows, their Cybernetics unit will continue to perform.”
Cybernetics is not shy about touting the performance of its offerings, which it claims is the result of its quality of engineering. The company is a big believer in using caching and solid state drives (SSDs) to drive up the IOPS. It also gives customers a choice of technologies, enabling users to mix and match SAS, SATA, and SSD disks in its VTLs, which is typically only available in high-end SANs.
“We have recently debuted our new SSD-based virtual tape libraries that feature 20 or 40 SSD bays within a 1U enclosure,” Jones says. “Hybrid technology, formerly associated only with SANs, is now available with our VTLs and combines the speed of SSD with the cost-effectiveness and capacity of NL-SAS drives.”
Cybernetics also supports a range of storage protocols to give customers choice and flexibility. “Today, we still support legacy SCSI and FC with AS/400 along with 8/16G FC and SAS,” Jones says. “We even manufacture a SCSI to iSCSI converter for IBM.”
While the size of the IBM i customer base isn’t growing these days, Cybernetics is bullish on the prospects of the VTL business. There are thousands of companies that still run tape backups, and these are potential clients for VTLs in the future.
“Cybernetics has seen incredible growth within the IBM i marketplace,” Jones says. “Many partners are now offering our products to their customers along with disaster recovery services based on our de-duplication and replication, as a service.”
IBM i shops have many options when it comes to buying a VTL or disk-based backup appliance. While Cybernetics may not be a household name in the midrange market, it has an impressive level of experience working with the platform. If you’re in the market for a VTL, you could do much worse than to include them in the product search.