Article

LTO has landed

Kevin Komiega

In an effort to combat Quantum Corp.'s domination of the tape automation market, IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, is set to announce on Wednesday, the arrival of the first products based on the long-awaited, Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape format. IBM is the first company to ship products based on LTO technology.

IBM is banking on the interchangeability of the Ultrium LTO Data Cartridge to entice customers to adopt the new technology over the existing DLTtape, and grab a piece of the automated tape library market. According to IDC, the worldwide tape automation market will nearly double in size reaching $4.6 billion by 2004.

More of a concern to IBM is the upcoming release of Milpitas, Calif.-based Quantum's Super DLTtape technology (SDLT). The new SDLT family is expected to be comparable in price, performance, and capacity to the LTO products and poses a threat to IBM's LTO market penetration.

LTO vs. SDLT: Who will be the winner?

"From a capacity and performance standpoint we're competing against SDLT," said Bob Maness, project manager for IBM Storage. IBM said that DLT is the industry standard by default due to a lack of technology to give it a serious run for its money. They are looking to LTO to change all that. "We've beat Quantum's SDLT to market and hope to make LTO the new standard in the midrange market."

IBM says that they've taken steps that they hope will make LTO more appealing than the new SDLT offerings. Both

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LTO and SDLT use the same single reel, half-inch tape form and both are, or will be, supported on almost all major platforms, including Windows 2000/NT, UNIX, and Linux.

The most daunting obstacle facing Big Blue is SDLT's backward compatibility with the existing DLTtape install base. This means that the forthcoming SDLT products will be able to utilize the current DLT media and will provide a convenient upgrade path for current DLTtape customers. With more than 1.4 million DLTtape drives and over 45 million DLTtape media cartridges shipped to date, Quantum's foothold in the market will not be overcome easily.

"The key ingredient is an interchangeable cartridge. Any other vendor that supports the LTO format will be able to read/write with our tape cartridge, and vice versa," said Maness. "[Another] advantage we have is that Quantum has to develop brand new heads for the SDLT drives. We're in our fourth generation of heads," said Maness. He added that through an open system approach and the interchangeable data cartridge, the LTO vendors hope to beat SDLT. "We're trying to make LTO the de facto standard with the interchangeable tape cartridge. We'll see how [SDLT] comes out," he said.

Fibre Channel/SAN support: Future enhancements to LTO

IBM has another trick up their sleeve. With each product rollout more platform support will be added to the LTO family. In early 2001 Fibre Channel support will be introduced, along with the ability to add DLTtape drives to the Ultrium platform. "We'll also have storage area network (SAN) support via a router that will connect SCSI to Fibre Channel," said Maness.

Other features include multipathing requests from multiple servers, and using metadata to track the error history on the data cartridge and perform a diagnostic at the load point. If errors are present, the drive sends an error message to the operator. "This is an IBM exclusive," said Maness.

"We see LTO as having a lot of market opportunity," said Brenda Zawatski, vice president, IBM storage systems group. She said that the open systems approach is key because in today's storage market companies live and die by interoperability.

In responding to Quantum's huge presence in the tape automation space she said that the competition is beneficial because it pushes the vendors to improve their products, and at the end of the day, the customer wins. "We're trying to give customers choices and let them have options. The more solution-oriented we can be as a company the better it is for the customer," she said. "[LTO] is a game changer for midrange customers. It's the next big leap."

She stressed that IBM was cautious in their timing for the LTO technology. "We've spent 400,000 hours in testing. The market space is dominated by DLT so it was imperative to us that we not go out too soon," she said.

Open industry standards initiative led the way

The LTO products are the culmination of an industry initiative by IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Seagate to create an open industry-standard format for digital tape. The new technology allows customers to use tapes and drives interchangeably from any manufacturer using LTO.

IBM said it will market Ultrium LTO drives and tapes for UNIX and Windows 2000/NT users with the IBM brand and will also sell to other OEMs.

The LTO product line includes the low-end Ultrium Tape Drive that has a native storage capacity of up to 100G Bytes, the Ultrium Tape Autoloader that can hold up to seven tape cartridges, or 700G Bytes, the Ultrium Scalable Tape Library automated tape library that can accommodate 18, 36, or 72 cartridges for 7.2T Bytes, and the High-end, UltraScalable Tape Library that can hold 877 to more than 2,400 cartridges for a total of 248T Bytes of native storage capacity, which IBM says equates to enough storage space to hold 24 times the printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.

UltraScalable Tape Library and Tape Drive will be available September 1. Tape Autoloader and Scalable Tape Library will be available October 20. Prices start at $9,250 for the desktop Tape Drive. IBM's new LTO products range in price from $9,251 for the IBM Ultrium 3580 desktop drive, to $42,500 for the Ultrium 3584 UltraScalable Tape Library.


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