ODI to double tape capacity/speed

Posted on January 01, 1998

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ODI to double tape capacity/speed

In a move that could potentially have far-reaching ramifications for the tape drive market, Overland Data Inc. last month unveiled technology that it claims can double the capacity and transfer rate of any tape drive that`s based on linear recording. That includes digital linear tape (DLT), Magstar, and quarter-inch cartridge (QIC) formats such as Travan, Single-channel and Multi-channel Linear Recording (SLR/MLR) data cartridge, and minicartridge. And, the technology does not require new head or media designs.

Overland`s technology is not applicable to helical-scan technologies such as Exabyte`s 8mm, Sony`s Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT), or digital audio tape (DAT), which is available from a variety of manufacturers.

Called Variable Rate Randomizer, or VR2, Overland`s technology is a new encoding scheme for partial-response linear tape data channels. Essentially, it brings to tape a technique widely used in rigid disk drives: partial response maximum likelihood (PRML). VR2 overcomes key difficulties in bringing PRML to tape, such as instantaneous speed variations and recovering an accurate clock.

According to Overland officials, VR2 can be used in conjunction with existing data compression techniques. Result: a quadrupling of native capacities and transfer rates. VR2 will be implemented in a relatively simple ASIC chip that can be incorporated into linear tape drives.

Analysts applaud the technology, but say that the potential success of VR2 depends on a number of factors:

- Competing technologies. At least one tape drive manufacturer is rumored to have a technology that could potentially compete with VR2.

- OEM licenses. So far, Overland has not announced any OEM agreements with drive manufacturers, although company officials say they are in licensing discussions with several vendors.

- Pricing, including license charges and the premiums charged by licensees. "A lot depends on licensing charges, as well as the premium that drive makers add on," says Bob Amatruda, senior analyst, tape and removable storage, at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA.

Another factor is timing. Overland is not committed to specific delivery dates, but analysts expect VR2 chip sets late next year or early 1999, with drives to follow. "It would probably take a year to 18 months to incorporate the technology into drives [once a licensing deal is signed], because this requires long OEM evaluation cycles," says Amatruda.

Within that time frame, tape manufacturers such as Exabyte and Quantum are expected to deliver successors to their current-generation drives. Exabyte, for example, plans to ship a second-generation 8mm Mammoth drive in the first half of 1999. According to Steve Georgis, director of technology and business development at Exabyte, Mammoth II will have a native capacity of 50GB and a transfer rate of 12MBps. In addition, says Georgis, the drive will use PRML.

Also within that same time frame, a recently announced initiative between Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Seagate is expected to yield products that could further confuse the competitive matrix. "The whole tape mix is going to start heating up in 1999," says Amatruda.--DS


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