Over the years I’ve developed a habit I can’t break: backing up all my files on all my machines regularly (two copies of anything important). As my systems have become larger and disk space has exceeded the 1TB barrier, I’ve had to upgrade backup devices frequently. The old 1GB QIC tape drives didn’t cut it ten years ago, 4GB DAT drives were replaced five years ago, and now my AIT 25GB cartridge is not big enough to hold some project information on a single tape. DLT seemed the obvious way to go, with 40GB native and 80GB compressed on a tape, but DLT drives are horrendously expensive for a small company. Faced with a $9,000 bill for dual DLTs, I had to hunt around for alternatives. There are very few high-capacity, high-speed backup systems available other than DLT, so I was almost ready to bite the bullet and buy an expensive dual internal drive unit when Benchmark Tape Systems sent me their DLT7 autoloader for review. I’ve found my new tape system!

The DLT7 is an autoloader DLT with a single internal DLT drive (a Quantum 7000 from the looks of it). Benchmark sells internal and external drive units without the autoloader, but the small price increase for the autoloader system makes it attractive to anyone with lots of data to back up. The autoloader can handle seven DLTs at once (280GB native, 560GB compressed), making it good for large system backups and unattended network-wide access.

The DLT7 is physically long at a shade under two feet, but only eight inches high and ten inches wide. The back panel has two LVD SCSI connectors (cables are supplied by Benchmark), and a power socket. The front panel has a hinged door behind which sits a five tape rack. A small LCD screen and some pushbuttons for selecting menus completes the front panel. A single power button is on the front, too. The unit weighs twenty-seven pounds and sits quite happily next to an average server, the beige color matching most computers. The SCSI ID is set through the front panel buttons.

We installed the DLT7 on a Windows NT system running Veritas Backup Exec version 8. We had no user manual or software supplied with our evaluation unit, so we had to resort to the company Web site. After a bit of digging, a driver was installed and Windows NT recognized the drive. We let Veritas Backup Exec manage the drive autoloader, and started some backups.

Backup speed with the DLT7 is about on a par with other DLT systems we’ve tested, as well as the Sony AIT cartridge system we currently rely on. It averages about 13GB per hour, with a peak of over 18GB. When backing up over a network, the speed tends to slow a little because of the network traffic effect, but we still managed to backup and verify 25GB of data in just over three and a half hours. Where the DLT7 shines, though, is unattended backups. If you need to backup several machine’s worth of data (or selected directories or drives), simply choose them in your backup package and let the DLT7 take care of switching tapes for you. No more early-morning tape cartridge changes to complete a backup overnight!

The operation of the loader and unloader is simple: slide the tapes in to the five rack spaces at the front of the unit, and either manually load them through the menu-driven interface, or let the software do it for you. The drive is secluded at the back of the unit, so doesn’t need to be touched by users at all.

There are a number of DLT autoloaders on the market, but Benchmark Tape System’s DLT is the most inexpensive we could find. At a suggested list of $4,779, the ability to back up half a terabyte has to be attractive. The DLT7 is as expensive as some stand-alone external drives from big-name manufacturers. With a three-year warranty, it’s a good bet Benchmark expects the units to perform without a problem. We’ll let you know in a few years, after we’ve worked with our purchased unit that long!

DLT7 $4,779
Benchmark Tape Systems
5665 Airport Blvd
CO 80301
303-443-7359 fax

Summary: Best price-per-gigabyte in a DLT backup system we’ve seen. You essentially get the seven-unit autoloader for the same price as a DLT from other vendors. Great buy!