LTO program adds new generations

LTO's first road map update includes capacity and speed increases for generations 5 and 6.

Anticipating long-term market needs, the LTO (Linear Tape-Open) Program -- a consortium made up of Certance, Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., announced it is extending the LTO Ultrium technology road map to include generations 5 and 6, increasing storage capacity and performance.

LTO has been enjoying a comfortable market share lead over the past few quarters. According to a recent study by Ojai, Calif.-based analyst firm Freeman Reports, 343,000 LTO tape drives are projected to be shipped by the end of 2004. This compares to 195,000 SDLT tape drives. The study projected 2004 revenue to be $886 million for LTO drives and $395 million for SDLT.

The new LTO road map was based on a survey of 200 IT managers and estimates that generations 5 and 6 will double tape capacity. Generation 5 will increase to 3.2 TB compressed and generation 6 will double that at 6.4 TB compressed. The current generation, LTO-3, has a tape capacity of 800 GB compressed.

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Rick Luttrall, chief technical strategist, HP network storage solutions, added: "Because of compliance, companies have to store more data than ever for longer periods of time. The more they can store in the same space, the better."

The past trend with LTO has been to double both capacity and speed with each generation. But tape transfer speeds in generation 5 and 6 will only increase by as much as 75%. Diane McAdam, analyst with Data Mobility Group, Nashua, N.H., said that tape's changing role in storage environments has toned down the importance of speed. "Tape is now used more for deep archiving and compliance, so continuing to add capacity makes sense. As far as backups, tape may be fast enough as it is," she said.

According to the LTO program, respondents from the survey revealed that doubling data transfer speeds would entail paying for performance they would not be able to use. "We saw that if we doubled tape speed for gens 5 and 6, the tapes would be underutilized," said Bruce Master, IBM's senior program manager for worldwide tape storage systems.

Yet tape speed will still increase significantly. Compressed transfer rates in generation 5 are planned to be 360 MBps -- up from the estimated 240 MBps in generation 4. Generation 6 rates are planned for 540 MBps compressed. The current generation, LTO-3, has a compressed transfer rate of 160 MBps.

"Most companies won't need performance to double each generation, as long as data transfer speeds keep up with backup windows," said Fara Yale, vice president of research, Gartner Inc.

HP's Luttrall mentioned that the road map is a plan and can always be adjusted to user needs.

Historically, the LTO Program has released each tape generation every two years. Assuming that the two-year pattern holds in future generations, users can expect the LTO Ultrium generation 4 in 2006, generation 5 in 2008 and generation 6 in 2010, said an LTO Program spokesman.

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