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HP, IBM lead foray into LTO 2 space

LTO Ultrium tape technology has moved into the next phase of its evolution. Now, vendors are getting ready to battle for position.

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced this week the first commercially available second-generation LTO Ultrium tape drive. With IBM Corp., Seagate Technology LLC and a myriad of other media makers prepping product launches, it looks like the tape wars are heating up all over again.

Ultimately, customers could be the victors in this battle over tape formats, said one analyst.

The HP StorageWorks Ultrium 460 is read- and write-compatible with previous generations of LTO tape, and it delivers a capacity of 200G bytes per tape cartridge. Transfer rates for the new drive can reach 60M byte/sec, the company said.

HP also announced the HP Ultrium 400G byte data cartridge. The new tape drive and media minimize network interruption by protecting nearly 216G bytes per hour of data and storing up to 400G bytes of compressed data on one piece of media, which is double the capacity of Ultrium 1 tapes.

Last month, fellow LTO Ultrium developer IBM passed the second-generation LTO certification testing requirements and began shipping this next generation to original equipment manufacturing (OEM) customers and IBM tape automation partners. Seagate, the third member of the LTO Ultrium developer consortium, has yet to announce its plans for LTO 2.

First to latch onto LTO 2 technology, other than the big three, were Advanced Digital Information Corp. and Benchmark Storage Innovations Inc., which was recently acquired by Quantum Corp., which is the single biggest source for the competing DLT tape technology.

Newcomers to LTO 2 include Maxell Corp. and the computer products division of Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc., both of which announced plans to develop and ship LTO 2 drives and media before the year's end.

LTO Ultrium format Generation 2 features backward read and write capabilities with the first-generation product, a storage capacity with 200G bytes native, and transfer speeds topping out at 40M byte/sec within a single-reel tape cartridge designed for backup, restore and archiving applications.

LTO is targeting the incumbent tape technologies, DLT and SDLT.

A recent report from Ojai, Calif.-based Freeman Reports said that tape revenues last year were down in every category except LTO, which showed a whopping 280% gain.

Shipments of LTO drives jumped to 92,000 units in 2001, twice the number of shipments of rival drive technology Super DLTtape (SDLT), which began shipping six months after the first LTO drive.

SuperDLT 320 tape, which is already available, features a capacity of 160G bytes and a transfer rate of 16M byte/sec. However, second-generation SDLT is not expected until late 2003 and, according its current road map, will feature 320G bytes of capacity and a 32M byte/sec transfer rate.

"Both the SDLT 320 and the second-generation LTO drives are coming to market very much on schedule, which is a little bit unusual in that new products are usually late," said Bob Abraham, president of Freeman Reports. "These are real, working and should be available within the next few weeks."

Abraham said that intense competition for IT dollars will spawn an endless game of leapfrog between the LTO consortium and the SDLT camp.

He predicted that a new generation of each of the tape formats will arrive every six to nine months, which will keep the companies involved in a tight race for tape supremacy.

"This is going to go on ad infinitum," Abraham said. "Tape library manufacturers love it because they get a performance and capacity kick every nine months, but the customers are the ultimate beneficiaries."

The LTO program offers several different license packages, from enhanced packages that provide the specifications to manufacture Ultrium Generation 2 products, to basic license packages that provide Ultrium technology format specifications and guidelines for interchangeability.

All LTO manufacturers must submit to an annual physical, as it were, consisting of compliance verification tests for data interchangeability.

Product availability of the new generation of LTO is vendor dependent, but products are expected by the end of this year.

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


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