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What should I look for in mainframe tape products?

We use an IBM System z mainframe and it's time to update some aging tape drives. How big of a difference is there between the tape storage products on the market?

Mainframe tape is still a viable storage media option for archival data, but chances are your tape storage is about as old as some of that data.

A top issue in mainframe tape drive selection is media compatibility. Any new tape drive must, at the very least, read existing tape cartridges. If it doesn't, those important corporate compliance and discovery archives could be lost or a hassle to retrieve. If compatibility problems exist, the administrators can re-record file data onto the new tape media, but that is usually a cumbersome and error-prone project. It's always better to select drives that read the current media holding corporate data.

Next, consider the new tape drive's storage capacity and data transfer speeds. For example, IBM's TS1140 supports 500 GB, 1.6 TB and 4 TB tape media with compressed data transfer speeds to 650 MBps. Once you understand the drive's potential capacity and performance, estimate new backup and restoration time frames, and make any necessary adjustments to the mainframe backup or archival cycles.

To protect corporate data against loss or theft, the new tape drive for your mainframe should support encryption and key management. Encryption at the tape drive aids backup processes by removing the computing overhead needed for encryption in backup software tools. There are management features that ensure key safety and availability. Without them, a lost or forgotten key would lock you out of critical corporate data.

Finally, find out with which systems the tape drives are compatible, and evaluate the ways that a drive can interface to the existing data center infrastructure. For example, the TS1140 tape drive is compatible with IBM Power systems, System i, System p, System z and System x. The TS1140 can be shared among multiple systems on a storage area network, or between multiple mainframes through a separate tape controller unit.

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What kind of storage do you use on your mainframe?