HP, IBM, Seagate hint at new tape format

Posted on December 01, 1997

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HP, IBM, Seagate hint at new tape format

Dave Simpson

Three leaders in the tape industry were long on promises and short on details last month when they announced plans to develop a new tape format that will address everything from single servers to enterprise networks. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Seagate Technology joined forces in an effort to develop and promote a single standard in a market where multiple, incompatible formats have reigned for some time.

The new technology would presumably provide users with a standard for media interchange, as well as multiple sources for drives and media. This would be in contrast to tape technologies such as Exabyte`s 8mm, Quantum`s DLT, and Sony`s 8mm AIT, which are currently limited to single sources for drives. However, Seagate last month announced plans to second-source AIT drives, and Quantum was expected to announce a second source for DLT drives this month.

Quantum, Exabyte, and Sony did not participate in last month`s announcement. Also absent were media magnates such as Imation and Verbatim.

It`s unclear whether the new tape technology will clear or further muddy the waters in the midrange tape market. "What`s to make us think this isn`t just another standard in the existing pile?" says Robert Abraham, vice president at Freeman Associates, a storage market research firm in Santa Barbara, CA. But, he adds, "You can`t ignore what they`re doing."

Potential competitors were quick to comment. "Rather than adding to the proliferation of tape technologies already on the market, we think customers want the technologies they`re already using to perform to their requirements in terms of price/performance and reliability," says Bruce Huibregtse, senior vice president at Exabyte. "Also, there are complications associated with a strategy for a standard product available from multiple vendors; namely, interchange problems and low margins."

"We`re speculating that [the HP/IBM/Seagate] consortium is aimed at intersecting the DLT road map, particularly the DLT7000 high end. Sony`s AIT competes more with the DLT4000 market," says John Woelburn, senior marketing product manager in Sony`s tape streamer products division.

Officials from HP, IBM, and Seagate declined to provide any details about the proposed specification, but hinted that it would combine technologies from the three companies. The actual spec is due "early next year," and analysts predict that it will come in the first quarter. Assuming a typical 12- to 18-month product development cycle, don`t expect the technology to reach end-users until 1999.

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