Sony StorStation AITi200STS review

Price when reviewed

There are quite a few changes going on in the SMB backup market, particularly with tape drive interfaces. SCSI is now proving to be an expensive choice at this level and we’re starting to see more cost-effective options appearing. SATA is a natural choice, as most entry-level server motherboards are now equipped with embedded controllers as standard. Sony is the first to step forward and does so with SATA versions of its AIT-1 and -2 Turbo drives, which it is marketing aggressively as the ideal backup alternative to DAT72.

On review, we have the AIT-2 Turbo internal drive, and it isn’t difficult to see why this is a better bet than DAT72. Price-wise, the AIT-2 Turbo compares well with DAT72, but its native transfer rate of 12MB/sec is four times faster and its native capacity of 80GB over twice as much. The compact 8mm AME (advanced metal evaporated) tapes offer a feature called MIC (memory in cartridge), which consists of an internal 64KB flash memory chip used to reduce the time spent searching for data on the tape. To cut costs, Sony offers tapes without the MIC chip, which cost around £14 less. The drive can also read and write to AIT-2 WORM (write once read many) enabled cartridges for secure data archiving. MIC is used to prevent cartridges being formatted or overwritten and to stop data from being deleted, but will allow new data to be appended to unused parts of the tape.

For testing, we used an Evesham SilverEDGE 300NH entry-level server and connected the tape drive to one of its embedded SATA ports. We used a 5GB mixture of data typically found on a workgroup or SMB server and Computer Associates ARCserve 11.5, Symantec Backup Exec 10d and EMC Dantz Retrospect 7. For each product, the drive was asked to secure the test data, verify it and restore it back to its original location. Both ARCserve and Backup Exec worked happily with the drive, but Retrospect required the latest patch to support the new Sony drives. It’s important you check which mode the IDE channel has been set to by Windows, as we found the IDE channel had been set to PIO mode. Leave it like this and you’ll see up to a 75 per cent hit on performance, so make sure it’s set to DMA.

With this glitch sorted, the AIT-2 drive’s terminal velocity during the speed tests impressed us greatly. For backup, verification and restoration, ARCserve returned 14MB/sec, 14.1MB/sec and 9MB/sec respectively, while Backup Exec reported 13.4MB/sec, 13.5MB/sec and 10.9MB/sec for the same tasks. Retrospect lagged behind only slightly, delivering 12.7MB/sec for backup, 13.6MB/sec for verification and 9.8MB/sec for restoration.

The AIT Turbo SATA drives would make ideal partners to entry-level servers for general backup duties, with the AIT-2 model delivering impressive speeds. However, if you’re looking at the upgrade path on offer, it’s worth noting that the AIT-4 drive at the other end of Sony’s product roadmap failed to deliver the promised backwards compatibility with earlier models. Nevertheless, at the lower end of the backup market, the AIT-2 Turbo is offering a solid alternative to DAT72 that will reduce backup times considerably.

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