Ecrix takes aim at DDS
By Heidi Biggar
With the introduction of its VXA line of tape drives early next year, Ecrix Corp. hopes to do more than glean market share from reigning tape formats such as digital data storage (DDS). The startup plans to stem potential competition from emerging technologies like TeraStor`s near-field recording.
"For years," says Kelly Beavers, president of Ecrix, "people have been predicting that tape drives would just die. If we can`t find ways to make tape more cost-effective and to enjoy some sort of cost advantage over other technologies, then they will go away. Something like NFR is going work one of these days. Tape needs to be quite a bit farther down the curve or it is going to be in big trouble."
With up to 33GB of native capacity and a native transfer rate of 3MBps, VXA will have plenty of company in the low- to mid-range market. What sets the drive apart, says Beaver, is its pricing. The drive will reportedly be tagged at or below DDS-3 levels, though the actual price point has not been determined.
The drives were designed with this aggressive cost structure in mind. In fact, "the price was the most important thing," says Beaver. "We had to find a technology that we could make work [in this cost structure] and it had to be a new one."
Ecrix`s VXA technology incorporates three unique technologies: discrete packet format (DPF), variable speed operation (VSO), and overscan operation (OSO). In a nutshell, DPF organizes data in 64-byte highly segmented, unstructured packets (1,024 packets in all), which allow the drive`s four heads to read the data in any order--backward and forward--and reassemble it in the buffer.
Unlike streaming technologies, the VXA drive operates in variable speeds. Since the tape adjusts to the speed of the host, backhitching--a common problem in streaming technologies--is prevented. The drive`s overscan capabilities come into play during read operations. OSO reportedly eliminates issues with track geometry because the heads scan the entire surface of the tape. As a result, Ecrix can use simple tape path control systems, which minimize costs.
By using a single ASIC, a low-performance processor, metal-in-gap heads, and peak-detection read channels, Ecrix not only keeps the costs of its drives low, but allows for plenty of room to grow.