Server market sustains minicartridges

Posted on August 01, 1999

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Server market sustains minicartridges

Heidi Biggar

Thanks in large part to the surging market for small servers, analysts expect unit shipments of minicartridge tape drives to decline less precipitously this year. After posting an 18% drop last year, Freeman Associates, an industry research firm in Santa Barbara, CA, projects a 14% decline this year.

Freeman divides the minicartridge market into two segments: desktop (drives with floppy interfaces) and server (those with SCSI/IDE interfaces). Increasingly threatened by non-tape products such as CD-R, CD-RW, high-capacity floppies, and even Castlewood`s ORB, the desktop tape segment is rapidly declining. Representative drives include TR-3/4, Ditto, and QIC 3010/20.

"The desktop tape segment has taken a hard hit from non-tape technologies that have a clear advantage in terms of performance and appeal," says Bob Abraham, vicepresident of Freeman Associates. "If a user has any of these products at the desktop level, there`s no need for a tape drive."

Freeman`s forecasts for desktop tape call for 560,000 units shipped this year, 145,000 next year, and 0 after that. However, Abraham says he will likely adjust these numbers to reflect Tecmar`s recent purchase of the Iomega Ditto line. "From a marketing standpoint, Tecmar is a very innovative company, so I wouldn`t discount them," he says. "They`ll probably be the last ones [in the desktop segment] to turn out the lights."

Another company yet to be factored into the minicartridge equation is OnStream. Its low-end advanced digital recording (ADR) cassette drives fall squarely into the booming small-server/workstation market, which is also served by Travan NS, DAT, and low-end 8mm tape.

"The sense is they`re doing well; however, just how much sticking power they have is hard to say," say Abraham. "But their technology is perceived to be very high value, with good capacity and performance at the right price point."

Additionally, ADR is compatible with MPEG-2, and OnStream`s long-term strategy reportedly includes products that target video applications. "If they`re successful in penetrating the consumer electronics market," says Fara Yale, chief analyst at Dataquest, "this could have upside potential for the minicartridge market."

In the meantime, Travan NS products continue to dominate server-based minicartridge shipments. NS tape drives feature read-while-write capability, SCSI connectivity, and hardware data compression.

Freeman estimates that Travan NS drives account for 80% of server-based minicartridge shipments. Like desktop minicartridge drives, non-NS products are disappearing rapidly. "They`re a proprietary format and they`re not NS, so they can`t get on that bandwagon," says Abraham. "By 2002, they will have completely disappeared."

Overall, total server-based minicartridge shipments continue to increase steadily. In fact, shipments should exceed one million units this year, up from 830,000 last year, and just 221,000 in 1996, according to Freeman Associates. But beyond 2001, shipments are expected to decline. "We think minicartridge will run out of gas from a technology standpoint," says Abraham.

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