Sony StorStation LIB-81 review

£2999
Price when reviewed

The launch of Sony’s fifth-generation AIT drive in 2006 should restore confidence in this format, as it remedies the compatibility problems that befell its predecessor. Native capacity also sees a big boost to 400GB, and Sony has put this to good use. Its latest eight-slot AIT-5-equipped autoloader delivers an impressive backup capacity of 3.2TB.

The LIB-81 is a slimline 1U rack chassis that’s particularly well built. It has a couple of Ultra160 SCSI ports at the rear and the Fast Ethernet port alongside indicates that remote web browser management is on the menu. A single slot is provided at the front for importing and exporting media, and this is protected by a motorised sliding door when not in use. The backlit LCD panel next to it provides status information on the library and shows the tape drive plus all slots, and indicates which are occupied. The keypad provides manual access to all settings, so you can select slots, move cartridges around the library and enter a network address for the management port.

The web interface is easy to navigate and provides three separate sections for system configuration, maintenance and information. You can set up the date and time, modify SCSI IDs of the drive and loader, change the network settings and password protect them all. Usefully, the password will also be required if you use the front panel, and the keypad can be deactivated remotely. If you have the optional barcode or R-MIC reader installed, the inventory page will provide all this information for each cartridge.

For testing, we connected the LIB-81 to a Supermicro dual 3GHz Xeon 5160 server fitted with an LSI Logic Ultra320 SCSI card running Windows Server 2003 R2. Sony originally bundled the LIB-81 with a single-server version of EMC’s Retrospect 7.5 backup software, but recently switched over to Symantec Backup Exec for Windows Servers 11d. We loaded this and also put CA ARCserve Backup for Windows r11.5 on the server for further compatibility tests. Neither had any problems working with the LIB-81, with both correctly identifying the tape drive and all slots.

From the Backup Exec Device view, we could see the drive and all slots along with those that were occupied. However, whereas Retrospect offered a slick drag-and-drop function for moving cartridges around the library, all we could do in Backup Exec was run inventory on all or selected slots, erase tapes and designate one slot for cleaning cartridge duties.

Although Sony chose not to increase performance for AIT-5, a native speed of 24MB/sec is still good enough to compete with the immensely popular LTO-1 and -2 drives. The autoloader easily achieved the quoted speeds, with ARCserve reporting average rates of 29Mb/sec, while securing a 7.5GB mix of test data and 28.6MB/sec when restoring it back to the server. Backup Exec lagged behind slightly, delivering average speeds of 23.4MB/sec and 26MB/sec for the backup and restore tasks respectively.

No doubt the biggest competition to Sony’s LIB-81 comes from the LTO autoloaders. However, the 1U models use half-height LTO drives, and an equivalent HH LTO-2 based autoloader can only offer 50% of the capacity that the LIB-81 can. This makes Sony the best choice if you want the most backup storage.

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