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Sony retires first-generation SAIT

From his vantage point as general manager of New York City-based Broadway Video Digital Media, a service bureau that converts tapes and video to files for its clients, Dirk Van Dall could see the proverbial writing on the wall. Like many users and resellers of SAIT (Sony Electronics' proprietary half-inch tape format), he wasn't surprised when Sony announced it would stop shipping the product this month.

"LTO-3 is really hard to beat, particularly if they can get the density up to 800[GB]," says Van Dall. "We'll support anyone who has it [SAIT-1]. But we haven't spec'd it for a while." Van Dall is one of many SAIT-1 users who began phasing it out before Sony did.

The network library at National Lampoon, the multimedia comedy company, was using SAIT, but Van Dall's company had National Lampoon's data migrated off SAIT a while back.

Now, he says, LTO-3 is a common choice for many clients. "It's about speed, price and uptake on their drives," says Van Dall. "For legacy users, LTO-3 has much faster search rates."

With clients like the United States Tennis Association wanting old video and tapes converted to digital files, Broadway Video Digital Media purchased a standalone SAIT drive in 2004 from Seattle-based ISSI Data, which specializes in storage.

"We populate the archives offsite," explains Van Dall, "and oftentimes we use large shuttle drives and sometimes tape. That's how we started down the SAIT path. But primarily the way people shuttle media now is on large drives in large Pelican cases or LTO-3."

For its part, Sony isn't admitting SAIT's defeat to LTO, which the company also sells. "SAIT-2 drives have been offered for OEM integration into enterprise-class automation solutions, and Sony has a comprehensive strategy for supplying SAIT-2 media to the marketplace," states a company spokesperson in an email. SAIT-2, however, will be supported only by Sony's PetaSite libraries. Sony wants users to know, however, that the 8mm AIT format is still available; the company recently announced its fifth generation as well as new backward-compatibility features.

"The market is headed toward LTO," says Charlie Walsh Jr., CEO at ISSI Data. "There are a lot of people excited about LTO-4, and the advantages of LTO technology have proven hard for SAIT to compete with."

When Sony first introduced SAIT, only resellers that were focused on media and entertainment could sell it, and ISSI wasn't among them. Even though they were later eligible to sell SAIT-1, Walsh says he has just a handful of SAIT customers today and thousands of LTO customers.

One reason LTO moved quickly from being the new kid in class to achieving its most popular status is obvious: money. LTO prices dropped with each generation, while Sony's AIT proprietary technology didn't. Further, SAIT isn't the only proprietary half-inch tape format to lose out to the more popular LTO technology; Quantum's SDLT is also being cut from the company's roster as it shifts its focus more to LTO and disk drives.

--Ellen O'Brien

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