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Sony, other vendors offer new tape products

Tape drive makers unleashed their latest drive, media and library technologies on the industry last week, each vendor hoping to take the biggest bite out of the market.

Flowers won't be the only things blooming this spring.

The tape drive market has bounced back from a sluggish year. New libraries and drives from major players in the industry are going to be popping up in the next few months along with April flowers.

Sony Electronics announced it is now shipping production units of its first-generation SAIT drives and media to tape library automation OEMs; these products have the ability to store up to 500 GB of data and 1.3 terabytes (TB) of compressed data on a half-inch tape cartridge.

Sony said it has staked its claim as having the industry's highest-capacity tape drive and the first available product to break the 1 TB capacity barrier. The company also said the drive features a sustained transfer rate of up to 30 Mbps for data recording and recovery.

Sony expects that its OEM partners and Sony's internal business units will offer automated SAIT-1 systems for sale beginning this spring, and tape library manufacturers like Advanced Digital Information Corp., Qualstar Corp. and Spectra Logic Corp. are all expected to integrate SAIT drives and media into half-inch tape automation systems. Later this year, Sony is also expected to introduce an SAIT version of its PetaSite tape library system.

SAIT drives utilize Sony's existing Advanced Intelligent Tape architecture in a 5.25-inch extended drive footprint and use helical-scan recording technology. Sony said SAIT-1 drives come equipped with either an Ultra-SCSI or Fibre Channel interface. The Fibre Channel port supports up to 2 Gbps, so SAIT drives can provide high-speed backup functions within a storage area network (SAN).

Sony has a SAIT road map that extends to SAIT-4, with 4 TB native capacity per cartridge.

Also on the Sony front, last week Spectra Logic Corp. began shipping AIT WORM (write once read many) technology in all of its tape libraries.

Spectra Logic said that its tape library, coupled with Sony's AIT WORM, can be configured to perform backup, restore and WORM-archiving functions.

Spectra Logic enterprise libraries include a partitioning feature called Shared Library Services (SLS) that allows backup administrators to consolidate several backup operations running on different operating systems, software applications, tape drives, media and interface technologies. SLS enables customers to devote one partition to WORM media to meet SEC regulations and still conduct traditional backup and restore operations on other partitions using the same robotics. AIT WORM implementation is compliant with SEC Regulation 17 CFR 240.17a-4.

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.

The tape competition was also on the offensive last week. Imation Corp. has passed compliance verification testing process for the LTO Ultrium format Generation 2. The company said its Black Watch LTO Ultrium Generation 2 tape cartridges will feature an increased native storage capacity of 200 GB per cartridge and up to 40 Mbps transfer speeds.

Quantum Corp. made its latest automated tape library available last week with the debut of the ATL M1800, an 8U library with up to four DLT tape or LTO drives. Quantum said the M1800 starts at $29,000 for a dual SDLT 320 drive configuration.

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

Generation 2 LTO products from IBM and Seagate are imminent. Sony is now shipping its S-AIT drives and, by year's end, will ship AIT-4 drives that have 200 GB of capacity and 24 Mbps transfer rates. Quantum plans to introduce Generation 2 Super DLT drives that have 300 GB capacity and a 30 Mbps 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 1,200 GB capacity per cartridge and will transfer data at a rate of 64 MB per second.

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.

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.

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


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