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Tape market bounces back

The midrange tape market plunged in 2001, but according to a report from one analyst, shipments of the so-called "super tape" drives more than doubled in 2002.

A report from Freeman Reports, an Ojai, Calif.-based analyst firm that focuses on the tape market, said shipments of "super tape" drives more than doubled in 2002.

The super drive category includes Super DLT drives from Quantum Corp. and Tandberg Data and LTO drives from Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Seagate Technology LLC.

According to Bob Abraham, president of Freeman Reports, all five drive vendors competing in the super drive segment showed gains throughout the year, with the largest gains occurring in the third and fourth quarters.

"Our preliminary analysis shows that combined unit shipments of Super DLT and LTO tape drives increased to 282,500 units in 2002, up 106% versus 2001," he said.

Abraham said Super DLT drives gained market share compared with LTO drives. But despite Super DLT's gains, when all was said and done LTO drive shipments -- which had started more than six months earlier than Super DLT shipments -- jumped to a dominant position in 2002. Shipments of Super DLT drives increased to 107,700 units, while shipments of LTO tape drives increased to 174,800 units.

Quantum introduced a new model Super DLT drive in mid-2002 to move ahead of the LTO capacity point and maintain its growing market momentum. Of the five drive vendors competing in the super drive segment, Quantum remained the market share leader every quarter of 2002, Abraham said.

There was a ton of activity in 2002 that prompted the burst of momentum in the market.

October saw the advent of second-generation LTO. In November, HP debuted the Ultrium 400G byte data cartridge and tape drive. Quantum experienced some success since last summer with its SDLT320 drive. And Quantum is prepping the next incarnation of its Super DLT tape drive, the SDLT600, which is designed to push data at speeds of 64M byte/sec.

According to Freeman Reports, 2003 will buzz with brand new drives.

Generation 2 LTO products from IBM and Seagate are imminent. Sony plans to ship S-AIT drives that have 500G bytes capacity and 30M byte/sec transfer rates by next month and, by year's end, AIT-4 drives that have 200G bytes capacity and 24M byte/sec transfer rates. Quantum plans to introduce Generation 2 Super DLT drives that has 300G bytes capacity and a 30M byte/sec transfer rate in mid-2003. Perhaps the biggest tape play is expected to come from co-developers Tandberg Data and Imation Corp. The resulting O-Mass tape drives will offer 1,200G bytes capacity per cartridge and will transfer data at a rate of 64M byte/sec.

Last October, Abraham cautiously predicted a slow but steady recovery for the tape market but saw a faster than expected rebound in the last few months of the year.

"Things really picked up in the fourth quarter. There was only one vendor that had less than stellar performance, but they were still up," he said.

The success of super tape in 2002 may or may not be a bellwether for the storage industry, but Abraham said this is a very good sign for tape.

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


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