Vendors rev up next-gen LTO drives

Certance expected to ship first

By Heidi Biggar

With the final Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Ultrium Generation 3 specification in hand, LTO technology partners (and competitors) Certance, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM this summer got the nod to begin testing their LTO-3 tape drives in preparation for shipment later this year.

Initial LTO-3 product shipments are expected from Certance this fall; in fact, Certance recently announced its CL 800 LTO Ultrium 3 series tape drives, as well as a half-height LTO-2 format (the CL 400H LTO Ultrium 2 Half-Height series) for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Hewlett-Packard and IBM are expected to make similar LTO-3 product announcements later this year or early in 2005. Hewlett-Packard was first to market with LTO-2 drives.

Mounting interest in the third-generation LTO drive format is also evident among media manufacturers. In back-to-back announcements last month, Imation and Maxell became the first two media manufacturers to license the third-generation specification. The companies are currently undergoing interchangeability/compliance testing with the drive manufacturers. LTO-2 media suppliers include EMTEC, Fujifilm, Imation, Maxell, Sony, and TDK Electronics.

In keeping with the projected LTO road map, which calls for a doubling of capacity and performance every 18 to 24 months, the LTO-3 specification calls for drives with a 400GB native capacity and a 40MBps to 80MBps native data-transfer rate. This compares to Quantum's Super DLT (SDLT) 600 drive, which has a 300GB native capacity and a 36MBps native data-transfer rate. SDLT is LTO's primary competitor in the "super drive" tape segment.

In addition to the capacity/performance advantage, shipments of LTO drives continue to outpace shipments of SDLT drives. According to Freeman Reports, a tape market research firm in Ojai, CA, 59% of "super drives" shipped last year were LTO; 34%, SDLT, and 6.5%, AIT/SAIT.

The Certance CL 800 has a native per-cartridge capacity of 400GB and a native transfer rate of about 68.5MBps; the half-height drive, 400GB and 40MBps, respectively. The full-height LTO-3 drive is priced at $5,899; the half-height drive is priced at $1,999, making it an option for users who need the capacity, but not necessarily the performance, of LTO-3.

Neither HP nor IBM would comment on their plans to introduce a half-height LTO-2 drive. A half-height LTO-1 drive is available from HP and is geared to the SMB market. Like the Certance product, the HP drive is priced below $2,000.

"HP's half-height LTO-1 drive is still pretty strong in the market," says Bob Abraham, president of Freeman Reports. "In fact, each time they lower the price, the acceptance of the product goes up."

Just how much traction Certance's half-height product will have in the SMB market is unclear. "Users would rather fight than switch to new tape technology and this applies to LTO-2, LTO-1, as well as a variety of other lower-end tape formats," says Abraham. "Likewise, LTO-2 users will likely migrate to LTO-3, as will SDLT 600 users to future SDLT platforms. The exception to this rule is if a product is seen to be at a dead end [e.g., the DDS tape format]."

Certance's Malone says the LTO Program will make an announcement about write-once, read-many (WORM) support within the next couple of months. The specification is expected to call for separate WORM media. Quantum does not require separate WORM cartridges.

This article was originally published on September 29, 2004