Review: Exabyte’s New Autoloader Eases SMB Backup

Backing up data to tape has been both a blessing and a curse for small and midsize businesses. The data stored on those tapes often becomes a life-saver during crises, yet the administrative overhead of performing tape backups often drives people to ignore the task. After all, someone has to change tapes, verify backups and maintain the system.

Hoping to ease those burdens, Exabyte introduced the VXA-2 PacketLoader 1x10, a 1U rack-mount tape autoloader. The unit offers 1.6 Tbytes of compressed data storage with a 10-tape capacity. What's more, Exabyte uses packet-based storage technology, which improves reliability and speed.

In the past, tape drives relied on writing data in blocks on defined tracks onto backup tapes. That process has proved to be less-than-reliable at times, with data loss occurring from a bad block, defective track or a head-alignment issue. Exabyte's technology works in a fashion that's similar to network communications by writing data in packets to tape media, eliminating the concerns of blocks, tracks and related alignment issues. Each data packet is written individually and verified, further improving reliability.

By combining packet technology with a 10-tape capacity, the VXA-2 PacketLoader 1x10 offers what may be an ideal solution for busy small businesses. If daily backups are less than 160 Gbytes, the unit offers 10 business days of storage, with the ability to handle larger backups if the need arises. Furthermore, the unit's relatively low cost of $2,499 makes autoloading technology affordable for small companies.

The VXA-2 connects to a server via an LVD SCSI interface and can provide backup speeds as fast as 43 Gbytes per hour. The product's built-in Ethernet port offers remote management capabilities, letting users keep an eye on the unit with the included remote management software. CRN Test Center engineers would like to see a backup-over-Ethernet capability added to the unit, which would eliminate the need for the SCSI connection. Exabyte could accomplish that by upgrading the integrated Ethernet port to gigabit speeds and develop firmware that allows the unit to emulate a tape drive over an Ethernet connection.

Operation and installation of the VXA-2 is straightforward. The Test Center tested the unit in a Windows Small Business Server 2003 environment using Dantz Retrospect as the backup software. Retrospect offers native support for the VXA-2, but other backup applications may need some customization to work with the drive.

The VXA-2 proved easy to load and operate, and Retrospect's backup scheduling helped automate the backup process. To ease tape management, the VXA-2 incorporates a bar-code reader, which can detect bar codes on VXA-2 tapes and track tape use--a handy feature for documenting tapes and building tape libraries for sites concerned with archival information.

All things considered, Exabyte's VXA-2 PacketLoader 1x10 offers an affordable, reliable backup solution for businesses that have become lax in the backup arena.


Price: $2,499

Warranty: 3 years

Company: Exabyte, Boulder, Colo.

Contact: (303) 442-4333;