Hard-disk autoloader a tape killer?

Iomega's neat desktop removable hard drive autoloader.


If the words "peace of mind" seem like an oxymoron since you automated your business, it might be time to look at Iomega Corp.'s REV Loader 560. It's a comprehensive automated backup system based on disk-cartridge technology that takes the worry out of being lazy -- well, maybe.

Having no backup regimen for your files is courting disaster, but the two most popular approaches, hard drives and tape drives, do have their drawbacks. Hard drives, no matter how large, still have a finite capacity. Add another drive, and you end up paying to duplicate much of the drive hardware you've already purchased. Tape, while the more popular solution -- and near infinite in capacity because of its cartridge approach, is a comparatively fragile medium that's prone to failure from handling and because the tape medium will degrade over time.

Iomega's approach with its REV Loader 560 is to duplicate the portability of tape while adding the durability of a hard drive. It's not new in concept. Years ago, Iomega produced the Bernoulli box and ZipDisk systems -- both removable cartridge devices, both successful, but neither with the strength to gain the same dominance in the backup field that tape systems enjoy. The company's latest endeavor, the REV Loader 560, is a multi-cartridge disk-backup system that may finally buck the trend once the kinks are worked out.

Iomega's approach to the backup problem is the REV Loader 560, a disk autoloader that duplicates the portability of tape while adding the durability of a hard drive.

Decoding the name

The REV Loader 560 relies on the REV cartridge system that Iomega developed a few years ago. The concept is simple: put the sensitive drive electronics in a small (7- by 5.5- by 10-in.) stationary box with, in this incarnation, eight slots into which you can install up to eight 70GB cartridges. (The derivation of the "560" part of the name is from the or 560GB of storage that results.) The REV Loader 560 is also compatible with Iomega's earlier 35GB cartridges, but it will work more slowly, or so the company claims.

The more durable part, the hard disk, is in the cartridge, which is sized similarly to a tape cartridge at 2.95 by 3.03 by 0.39 in., and tips the scales at less than 3 oz. (If you're into trying such things, Iomega claims that the cartridge alone will survive a four-foot drop onto commercial-grade carpet and a five-foot drop if it hits a hard floor while still in its plastic case. It also claims that the cartridge has a 30-year shelf life.)

Inside the loader is a cartridge-transport system on an elevator. When a particular cartridge is needed, the transport jogs up or down behind the stack, stops at the correct cartridge, and sucks it in. Only one cartridge can be loaded at a time.

Working the Beast

While the REV Loader isn't rocket science, it did take a few tries before things were working smoothly. The first Loader that arrived had a front panel button jammed under the bezel. Even after it was set free by applying a pointy stick to the problem area, the device proudly refused to work. Iomega overnighted a second drive, which powered up flawlessly -- but that put us face to face with the software.

CA Inc.'s ARCserve backup software is on tap here for backup tasks. It offers the usual options -- full and incremental backups, password protection, accidental file-deletion protection, and immediate or scheduled backups. It also works with any drive you have installed in or directly attached to your PC, so you're not limited to the REV Loader as your only target drive. (It will not recognize networked devices. For that, you'll need to buy a separate version of ARCserve.)

If you work in that nebulous arena called the "IT cloud," you already know that CA software, in general, is outrageously comprehensive. Unfortunately, that can translate into unnecessarily complex software in the small-to-midsize business environment where Doctor Bob is simply trying to meet his Sarbanes-Oxley Act obligations.

For example, you should be able to reasonably expect that something called the "Backup Wizard" would get you backed up in as automated a fashion as possible. But no, you need to head to the Manager section of the software. There, life will be revealed in a Windows Task Manager type view, compete with a plethora of options and frames within Windows. Thankfully, the first time you do this, you'll be greeted by "My First Backup," a series of preset options that will walk you through the process. Remember those steps.

Ironing out the lumps

Don't feel smug yet. Even though you may theoretically have everything correct, things may still not work. Technically, a REV cartridge is preformatted and should therefore work in the Loader. We discovered that two of the eight cartridges supplied weren't formatted -- or at least not well enough for the Loader to appreciate them -- and one cartridge simply wouldn't work at all.

Throughout, the best procedure was to load each installed cartridge. You can do that either from the three-button front-panel array or by right-clicking the REV Loader icon in My Computer. Once loaded, a relatively short format takes about 11 seconds per cartridge, so it's a painless method of ensuring that all is well. And it only needs to be done once for any cartridge.

With everything working in sync, backups are a snap. The drive works in almost total silence. The only noise is apparent when one cartridge is disgorged back into its slot, and the transport moves on to the next and then sucks that cartridge in. Backups speed along at a tad above 1GB per minute using our test backup suite consisting of 142GB of MPEG 2 video files.

The last word

With the REV Loader 560 street priced around $1,500 and four-packs of REV 70 cartridges running anywhere from $200 to $225, this is not desktop backup for the average consumer unless you running a heavy-duty media center that you really want to secure. For most desktop installations, Iomega's less-expensive REV 70 external USB drive will do just fine.

Iomega's REV Loader 560 is meant for small and midsize businesses, especially if you have a geek living in the closet down the hall who can do the initial setup. The disk cartridges will withstand mishandling better than tape cartridges, and the system is overall faster than tape.

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