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IBM servers and Exabyte tape drives offer one-two-punch

Kevin Komiega

Tape drive maker Exabyte Corp., Boulder, Colo., has strengthened its ties with IBM by extending an OEM agreement that provides a one-two-punch with IBM's servers and Exabyte's VXA-2 drives.

Under the terms of the deal, the VXA-2 drives will be offered as an optional internal storage component for its IBM eServer xSeries line of Intel processor-based servers.

The VXA-2 tape drive is designed to store up to 80GB of data at a sustained transfer rate of up to 12MBps and maintains read and write compatibility with the first generation VXA-1 tape drive.

Exabyte's CEO Tom Ward said the deal makes it easy for IBM's customers to buy VXA-2 tape drives when they buy servers from Big Blue.

Exabyte reestablished itself as a player in the tape market last October after a number of financial problems and management changes by signing its initial OEM deal with IBM to include its VXA-2 tape libraries with the IBM eServer pSeries family of servers and workstations.

Bob Abraham, president of Freeman Reports, an Ojai, Calif.-based analyst firm focused on the tape market, said this is quite obviously a good thing for Exabyte.

"It's not just a matter of cash flow and having a big customer [like IBM]. It's a matter of having market presence and having someone like IBM's endorsement is a good thing," Abraham said.

Under the terms of the first agreement, the VXA-2 tape drive was made available as an internal feature of the pSeries family

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and as an externally attached storage enclosure.

The drive's SCSI Ultra 2 Low Voltage Differential (LVD) interface attaches to either LVD or single-ended SCSI host interfaces.

Exabyte said VXA-2 will be available as an option in xSeries server models including x205, x225, x235, x255, x305, x335 and x345.

VXA-2 will be available in xSeries servers beginning May 9.

Exabyte has positioned its VXA drives, which it acquired after merging with fellow tape maker Ecrix Corp., as a replacement for drives based on the popular digital data storage (DDS) tape format. The company maintains that VXA offers a higher capacity and performance at the same price point as DDS.

Abraham said DDS technology is not being displaced, but rather the technology is experiencing a natural decline of the market going away in favor of newer tape formats like VXA.

He said that there is still some residual DDS technology on the market and now that Hewlett Packard Co. and others have changed their minds and extended DDS out to another generation, Freeman Reports will be extending its forecast for the life of DDS past its originally predicted period of five years.

HP's previous decision to end its DDS line was a business decision and not a technology issue, but Abraham said the acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. breathed new life into the HP DDS product roadmap.

"They made a business decision along with the other two suppliers not to do a fifth generation of DDS," he said. "The reason for the turnaround was Compaq. In reviewing the business decisions and given that they had the Compaq business in hand, they had the opportunity to build the drive and displace competitors. It was enough business to justify the release [of a fifth generation DDS family.]"

The published VXA roadmap currently extends through four successive generations.

Exabyte's president and CEO, Tom Ward, has completed the task of turning the company back toward profitability, a job started by interim CEO Juan Rodriguez after he took the reigns from Bill Marriner in 2001.

While at his post as interim president and CEO in January, Rodriguez restructured the company's expenses to reduce $14 million in annual costs, developed a relationship with Hitachi Data Systems for outsourcing manufacturing needs, and strengthened the balance sheet by raising $6.56 million in equity financing and securing $25 million in working capital.

Exabyte merged with Ecrix in August 2001. The deal gave the startup Ecrix access to a worldwide sales and support organization for its entry-level VXA tape technology and gave Exabyte a viable low-end tape technology.

Let us know what you think about the story. E-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer.

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