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Sony unveils AIT-3, preps for Super AIT

Kevin Komiega

Sony Corp., secured its future in the tape world Monday with the debut of its Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT) product roadmap for 2002, which includes plans for S-AIT, a new tape-based data storage format that will make it possible to store up to 500G Bytes of native capacity on a single-reel, half-inch tape cartridge.

The S-AIT drive will leverage Sony's AIT architecture in a 5.25-inch extended drive form-factor, the company said. If Sony stays the course and delivers S-AIT next year, it is expected to be the highest capacity tape drive, storing up to half a terabyte of uncompressed data with a sustained native transfer rate of up to 30MB per second.

Robert Abraham, president of Freeman Reports, a storage analyst firm in Ojai, Calif., said the secret to Sony's cartridge capacity is in the way it records data. Sony uses helical scan recording versus the longitudinal recording method used by SDLT and LTO.

With helical recording, a tape is helically wrapped around a rapidly rotating drum with one or more small, embedded recording heads. The recorded tracks run diagonally across the tape from edge to edge. Longitudinal recording involves the tape passes by a stationary recording head. Recorded tracks are parallel to the edge of the tape and run the full length of the tape.

Sony said Matsushita Kotobuki Electronics Industries, Ltd. (MKE) and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (MEI), known for Panasonic-brand products, will serve as alternative

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manufacturing sources for S-AIT drives and media, respectively. Tape library manufacturers such as ADIC, Qualstar and Spectra Logic have announced plans to support the integration of S-AIT drives and media into half-inch tape automation products.

Another piece of Sony's AIT puzzle was also put in place on Monday with the unveiling its third-generation AIT drives, and AIT-3 media cartridges. AIT-3 doubles the capacity and performance of AIT technology over the earlier generations, and is read/write compatible with all AIT drives.

The new AIT-3 tape drives and data media provide customers with 100G Bytes of uncompressed capacity and a 12MB/sec sustained uncompressed transfer rate in a 3.5-inch form factor, the company said.

Abraham said AIT-3 would compete with Linear Tape Open (LTO) and SuperDLT (SDLT) in terms of capacity, transfer rates and cost.

"In terms of capacity and transfer rates this is Sony's entree into the high end," said Abraham. But, he added that Sony is a little late to the playing field since SDLT and LTO products have been out for more than a year.

Sony's market appeal, he said, lies with its installed base of more than 200,000 AIT drives.

AIT-3 drives are read and write backward-compatible with AIT-1 and AIT-2 media, giving users a simple migration path to the higher capacity of AIT-3 without losing access to or compatibility with previously backed-up data.

According to Freeman Reports, revenue for half-inch helical scan data drives is projected to grow from $40 million in 2000 to $130 million in 2006.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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