HP StorageWorks DAT 320 review

Price when reviewed

The StorageWorks DAT 320 represents a return to the good old days for HP and Sony. After the demise of DDS way back in 2001, they’re back together as a joint development. This seventh-generation DAT drive is the successor to the DAT 160 and in this exclusive we see whether it delivers on its promises.

You can choose between 3Gbits/sec SAS or USB2 (on review), but the drive is only available in a 5.25in format. The chassis is solidly built, with improved internal airflow making the single rear-mounted fan extremely quiet.

The drive uses a simpler tape path with all the electronics moved to the rear, along with a larger heatsink. There’s also a double-door mechanism that shuts behind the cartridge to keep dust out.

The DAT 320 only supports 8mm cartridges with ME (metal evaporated) media. The DAT 160 had an extra 4mm head to allow for backward compatibility with DAT 72 and DDS-4 media but this has been removed in the DAT 320. Everything gets doubled as native capacity goes up to 160GB, the quoted native transfer rate is now 12MB/sec and the drive’s buffer is boosted to 64MB.

The DAT 320 also supports hardware encryption/decryption and uses the same AES-GCM 256-bit algorithm as HP’s A-Listed Ultrium 1840 LTO-4 drive. Encryption is applied after hardware compression but this only works with supported backup software. Firmware upgrades are digitally signed and the drive will check their authenticity before allowing itself to be updated.

The drive comes with HP’s Data Protector Express Single Server Edition software. The software is packed with wizards for ease of use. Encryption is one of the optional steps for backup and, if activated, requires a passphrase entered. If the tape is then placed in another drive, possibly in a remote site, the passphrase will be needed to restore the data.

To test its performance we loaded the drive on a Boston Supermicro dual 3GHz Xeon 5160 server running Windows Server 2008 Enterprise. We had no problems installing the drivers and the DAT 320 was ready to go in a couple of minutes. Securing and restoring a 17.4GB sample with Data Protector returned average speeds of 11.1MB/sec, and the same jobs with encryption selected returned similar speeds.

For compatibility testing we also fired up the A-Listed Symantec Backup Exec 12.5 which accepted the drive without any problems and proceeded to deliver similar backup and restore speeds of 10.5MB/sec and 10.9MB/sec. We were advised by HP that an encryption update for Backup Exec will be released soon.

The DAT 320 gives DAT 160 users that all-important upgrade step. Although performance isn’t radical, it’s twice that of its predecessor and it introduces valuable data encryption as standard for secure media transport and off-site storage.

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