Virtual Tape Considerations for IBM i

January 17, 2019

Virtual tape for IBM i is a powerful tool for enhancing storage systems, speeding up backup operations, and facilitating higher availability of data. For organizations with large file saves, virtual tape is a significant improvement over older media, with amenities such as automatic creation of additional backups as needed and support for multiple simultaneous read operations from the same virtual volume.

Organizations have many options for virtual tape storage on IBM i, and it’s important to find a hardware solution that handles critical data and performs demanding operations such as replication and deduplication at scale. We’ll look at some popular VTL choices and then examine the broader considerations to make when using VTL. All of these devices can be shared simultaneously between IBM i and other platforms.


LaserVault ViTL provides a virtual tape library solution that works flawlessly with backup software such as Robot Save. ViTL is an easy, straightforward replacement for tape for any iSeries business and lets administrators continue using current tape commands and backup processes, without any programming changes. The user gets more options for more drives and more slots than tape without adding additional hardware. With ViTL, you can save your backups to local and remote connected disk, including existing NAS, SAN or Deduplication Appliance over CIFS, NFS or iSCSI.

The ViTL all-flash device connects via Fibre Channel or SAS and is compatible with all FC and SAS speeds. It appears as tape media to the iSeries, Robot Save, and BRMS, emulating an IBM TS3200 tape library (3573-L4U) with extra cartridges. There is no limit on the size of the virtual tape files other than available disk space. ViTL supports D-mode IPL, and supports multiple virtual tape drives assigned to one or more virtual tape libraries. Plus there is nothing required to be installed on the iSeries.

For users wanting to save money by using existing hardware, ViTL is available as a software-only option. Easy web interfaces provide the user with fast accessibility and eliminate the need for physical tape handling and associated delays. AES-256 encryption and compression are included, along with integrated replication provided by LaserVault Replacador.

Dell Data Domain

This solution is a good way to consolidate archiving, backup, and data recovery into one system. Its inline deduplication is useful for creating a large number of backups over a shorter time span, making backup windows less pressing. Not only does it have throughput of up to 31 TB/hour, but it’s a good fit for administrators that want to optimize network bandwidth utilization and integrate VTL with minimal hassle into existing infrastructure.


SPHiNX’s VTLs are optimized for disaster recovery and data protection. They can be deployed as the main repositories for backups and as secondary tiered storage for replicated data. Featuring compatibility with multiple operating systems, SPHiNX solutions can be integrated into existing systems and easily scaled. Efficient, automated tape backups reduce error risk, plus the consolidation of tape data helps to streamline backup management while utilizing less tape media.


Cybernetics developed the original VTL and has been working to perfect the technology since the early 1990s. Their systems natively support all tape backup/restore commands, including Option 21 and IPL, as well as backup software like Robot Save. They offer a wide range of models for small networks to enterprise environments and emphasize ease of deployment using existing connections and devices. With the highest deduplication ratio, you can store months of backup data and minimize the cost of sending backups off-site.

Dynamic Solutions International (DSI)

DSI virtual tape appliances are effective alternatives to high-maintenance legacy tape backup systems. More specifically, entry-level appliances such as the DSI400 have more than 1,000 virtual tape drives and can be modified with encryption and hot tape backup. Users can add more capacity as needed, which is good for rapidly evolving data retention requirements.

Other technologies that we’ve tested with Robot Save include Tributary Systems Storage Director.

Is VTL Right for You?

These solutions cover a wide range of VTL requirements and illustrate the key advantages of this technology, but when is the right time to use a VTL? The technology has accrued a reputation as being downtime-free, but this isn’t the case—when an enterprise implements VTL, it needs to pair it with other solutions for save-while-active and/or point-in-time copying to external disk to minimize outages.

Technicians also need to keep an eye on what types of performance advantages they are or are not getting from VTL. Virtual systems are ideal for organizations that have large file saves and need specialized features such as media error reduction and multi-streaming of saves.

Virtual backups require the extra step of duplicating physical data and may necessitate additional disk purchases. These factors are particularly relevant in scenarios where companies use a mix of virtual and physical tape backup processes that may exceed 200 GB/hour in volume when combined.

Another major reason for using VTL is security, since it allows you to cut out the middleman who is taking your tapes off-site. With VTL, you can transfer your tapes off-site without the physical aspects of having someone manually picking them up. Most VTLs can duplicate themselves across your network, so you could do VTL backups in Chicago and have the device mirrored to a location in Minneapolis, for example. Many banks are excited about this technology for securing their data physically from a third party.

If you’re experimenting with VTL solutions, consider incorporating backup automation software into your save and restore processes.

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