A Workstation Backup Solution with Expensive Tastes

An effective backup and archival system is an integral part of any serious operating system. Windows NT has a resident tape-backup application that handles SCSI tape drives very well. Despite many complaints, however, IDE solutions are not well represented in Windows NT. IDE solutions are too small or lack drivers--which are neither quick nor easy to develop. Think about it. Why write a driver that doesn't pay you anything in return?

With this brief background in mind, I was impressed to find that Conner Peripherals had come out with a new SCSI tape drive, the Conner Falcon (TSM4000), based upon the Quarter-Inch Cartridge (QIC) Wide standard. I decided to examine it as a possible inexpensive backup-storage solution for Windows NT.

Initial Impression
The first thing that's obvious when you look at the Falcon is that it's an open drive with no top cover plate. This suggests that the drive gets dirty easily. In addition, the Falcon looks fragile--a major concern, if true.

I set the drive to ID3 and used the NCR825 and Adaptec 2940 bus-mastering controllers. In both cases, the backup unit was closest to the bus, and a hard drive supplied termination in the bus. The results were surprisingly similar suggesting that the Falcon units were running at near optimum speed.

The drive is sold with a marketing slant--not a technical one. The backup rate is advertised as being 54MB per minute--a ludicrous statement. Backup speed depends upon the ability to compress files. This is a major problem for the Falcon drive on NT.

Testing Results and Setup
Arcada Software has written a driver for the Falcon unit. I loaded it, and everything looked fine. So I rebooted the system and started testing. A quick glance at the Windows setup applet showed me that the driver had been installed many times (see Screen 1). Although this is only an install-script issue, it doesn't bode well.

My test systems consisted of a Pentium/66 with 32MB of RAM and a twin Pentium 90 with 128MB of RAM. I compared the TSM4000 (with firmware version 7.08) to an Archive DDS-1, which is comparable to the Conner CTD4000, and a DDS-2 (a Hewlett-Packard C1533a with a 9406 firmware version).

For my first test, I chose a local 240MB hard drive with a lot of FoxPro databases and .TIF files--all easily compressed. Next, I backed up a 400MB CD-ROM disk mounted on a Toshiba 3601 CD-ROM drive. And, last, I did a 340MB backup over a 10BaseT network. The backup tests that are shown in tables 1 and 2 reflect relatively normal conditions on workstations and servers.

As you can see, the Falcon unit does better with Executive Backup and software compression than it does with NT Backup. The problem is, however, that the Arcada driver costs more than the Falcon drive itself. So, why consider Executive Backup at all? Software compression! No other program allows you full use of the tape drive. In fact, Cheyenne's Enterprise ARCServe 2.0 lists the Falcon as not being able to use hardware compression. In addition, you can see that the Falcon drive is slower than the DDS-2; it's not designed to be the preferred network back-up unit.

One problem with the Falcon is cost. At first glance, it seems economical--the discount price is between $470 and $550. (The DDS-1 runs between $750 and $850 while the DDS-2 tips the scale between $950 and $1050.) The cost of the tapes, however, is the real problem. A single Falcon tape costs $26 while a 90-meter DDS-1 tape is under $10 and a 120-meter DAT tape is between $15 and $17. This makes a difference over time (see table 3).

DDS-2 DATs are definitely the way to go for major network and file backups, but the choice between DDS-1 and Falcon is a toss up. There are, however, a couple of disadvantages to the Falcon:

  • DAT tapes are made by everyone and price is competitive; and
  • There are cleaning tapes for the DDS-1 and DDS-2 while the Falcon uses swabs and isopropyl alcohol.

TABLE 1: NT Backup

240MB (Hard Drive) 400MB (CD-ROM) 340MB (Network)
Falcon 24 25 12
DDS-1 39.5 24 17
DDS-2 48 30 29
Results are in MB/minute.

Both the DDS-1 and the DDS-2 support hardware compression; the Falcon does not.


TABLE 2: Executive Backup 6.0 (Arcada Software)

240MB (Hard Drive) 400MB (CD-ROM) 340MB (Network)
Falcon 39.5 27 16
DDS-1 45 20.5 24.5
DDS-2 50 30 29
Results are in MB/minute.

Both the Falcon and the DDS-1 were run with software compression; the DDS-2 was run with hardware compression.


TABLE 3: Relative Backup Costs

15 tapes 30 tapes 45 tapes 60 tapes 75 tapes
Falcon ($510) $885 $1290 $1680 $2070 $2460
DDS-1 ($800) $950 $1100 $1250 $1400 $1550
DDS-2 ($1000) $1240 $1480 $1720 $1960 $2200

This comparison uses average tape drive costs and average tape costs.


The Bottom Line
The Conner Falcon drive is clearly a workstation unit, and it's reasonably priced if you don't use more than a few tapes. Its ideal niche would be as an adjunct to the larger and faster DAT and DLT drives.

For example, the ideal usage for the Conner Falcon would be with CAD/ CAM or similar applications that generate large files. You could keep your own essential files on the backup tapes. Keep the alcohol handy though; the drives do get dirty easily.

As the Falcon drive becomes more popular, the price of the tapes will come down. An IDE version is available, and an NT driver is also said to be in the works.

Conner has clearly designed the Falcon with economy in mind. For Windows NT Workstation, it might prove to be realistic if it's handled carefully. I found that cleaning the drive was not difficult but it was clearly necessary. Conner's technical support recommends cleaning it after every eight hours of use and also after using new tapes.

In the right environment, the Falcon TSM4000 functions well but needs to be handled carefully. The drive requires routine cleaning to keep down the number of tapes. The Falcon is an excellent alternative to the smaller-capacity QIC tape drives that use the large--and very noisy--6525 and comparable tapes.

Conner Falcon TSM4000
Contact: Conner Peripherals, 800-626-6637