Should Virtual Tape Library have a place in your backup strategy?

I still remember the days (almost 10 years ago) when SATA drives hit the storage market by a storm and it became a much cheaper replacement to Fiber Channel drives which were the defacto choice for enterprise storage at that time.  In short few years, SATA drive has became a very desirable option in enterprise storage when capacity rather than performance is the focus.

I remember having the discussion over the years with many IT Admins about when Tape will be obsolete as result of storage prices going cheaper by day. Larger and larger SATA drives with lower price tags have been hitting the market over the year, which has  only spurred more of these discussions. Nonetheless 10 years later Tape Drives are still the main backup medium today at large enterprises.

It sounds like tapes had the final word at least so far. It did not happen because IT admins just love tapes, but there are few reasons that has strongly contributed to Tapes survival

  • Regulatory requirements that a lot of companies or organizations are forced to adhere to.
  • Long-term vaulting capabilities, that can last for decades.
  • Cheap capacity, even comparing to modern high capacity SATA spindles.
  • Current backup infrastructures in most organizations are already tapes centered.

While tapes had the above advantages, it did not come without challenges of its own especially with the increase in data sizes reach hundreds of Petabytes in some datacenters, where on the opposite side of the scale backup windows have not been increasing but dramatically being decreased due to globalization and the way modern businesses operates (EX: shopping over the internet at anytime of the day you like).

Although tapes size have dramatically increased over the years, its speed has not caught up. This has caused many organizations of facing the issue of not being able to backup the full production infrastructure within allotted backup window, which is usually done during lower usage hours. This expose businesses based on how they handle this issue to either continue backing up during peak hours which dramatically hinder performance, or not have an up to date backup and fall out of regulatory compliance where both situations are not acceptable for any respectable business.

Virtual Tape Libraries have been trying to address this issue by seamlessly fitting into the existing backup infrastructure, while allowing enterprises to benefit of disk backup speed to shorten their backup windows. While customers that is not govern by regulatory requirements can stop there, others can direct backup to be shipped to tapes from the Virtual Tape Library (VTL) without affecting or involving production systems. While the concept is great, the challenge has always been that most available VTLs today are offered as a hardware solution at a premium cost which make them a none attractive alternative to cheap tapes.

StarWind has taken a different approach with its offering (StarWind Virtual Tape Library), which is being offered as a software package. The great thing about this approach that it allows you to use commodity hardware for your Virtual Tape Library which allow you to dramatically reduce cost. Further, you don’t have to sacrifice reliability when using StarWind Virtual Tape Library as you can use a Software Defined Storage solution that offer the required redundancy to be the base of your VTL Library (EX StarWind Virtual SAN).

Another great thing about StarWind Virtual Tape Library as well is how simple its to install. I have installed it in my home lab and got it up and running in less than 45 minutes without reading the documentation. I doubt I will be taking it out of my homelab anytime soon, as I have always had a hard time finding a virtual tape drive that works perfectly for testing different backup solutions (another great use case for it if you are trying to master one of the backup solutions like IBM TSM, Veeam Backup or Symantec Netbackup).  Below I will guide you through the installation of the StarWind Virtual Tape Library where in future posts I will give you guidance on how to integrated it with your own backup solution.

How to Create a StarWind Virtual Tape Library

Below are the steps to configure your StarWind Virtual Tape Library after you have downloaded the StarWind Virtual Tape Library here, and went through the next, next wizard to do the initial install.

  1. Launch StarWind Management Console and connect to the server. Right click on the server and select Add Device (advanced) from the pop-up menu.


2. The Add Device Wizard appears. Choose Tape Device item.

StarWind VTL Add Device Wizard Add Tape Device

3. Click Next to continue.

4. Choose Virtual Tape item, then Click Next to continue.

Choose Virtual Tape from Select Disk Device Type

5. Choose the Tape Library model that you want to emulate. StarWind VTL can currently emulate both ADIC Scalar 100HP MSL 2024, we will be using the HP MSL 2024 just as It seems more popular and more support is available for it with backup software out there.  Then click Next to continue.

Select HP MSL2024 from Device Model to emulate

6. Enter the path to virtual Device Header File, then click next to continue.

 StarWind VTL Choose Virtual Device header file

 7. Specify target alias. Target name will be generated automatically. Then click next to continue.

Specify Target Alias Name

8. At Creation page click Create and view the creation progress.

 StarWind Virtual Tape Library Creation Progress page


9. After creation you will see Device Creation completed page. Click OK to continue.

StarWind VTL Device Creation Completed Page

10. VTL device were created successfully. Right click on the device and select Create Tape… from the pop-up menu.

Create Virtual Tape Drive


11. See tape type/size and barcode click OK.

StarWind VTL See and accept tape type

12. Tape was created and placed into the first slot of VTL. You can create more tapes. VTL type HP MSL2024 has 24 slots for tapes.

StarWind Virtual Library Tape Creation Summary

To learn more about StarWind Virtual Tape Library, you might want to check the following video:  Virtualize your backup infrastructure with StarWind

Now that you have your Virtual Tape Library up and running, its time to connect it to your backup software. I will be working on posting several posts on how to integrate your StarWind Virtual Tape Library with the most popular backup software out there over time so keep checking back.

 Symantec Backup Exec Integration with StarWind VTL

Veeam Backup Integration with StarWind VTL (coming soon)

TSM Backup Integration with StarWind VTL (coming soon)


Please reach out with your comments or if you need me to work on posts on how to integrate StarWind VTL with other backup software.

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