Midrange tape due for shake-up

Posted on December 01, 1999

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Midrange tape due for shake-up

LTO vendors announce Ultrium; Quantum readies SDLT

Heidi Biggar

Over the past several weeks, Linear Tape-Open (LTO) drive manufacturers Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Seagate have engaged in a series of cat-and-mouse maneuvers in an attempt to position themselves for a piece of the midrange tape market, currently dominated by DLT. The three vendors expect to ship LTO drives in the Ultrium format by the middle of the year, while Fujitsu—the fourth and comparatively quiet LTO drive provider—is targeting October for product delivery. Quantum, meanwhile, remains fairly tight-lipped about Super DLT specifics.

With a 29% slice of the overall tape drive market—compared to 8mm`s 8% and SLR`s 4%, according to International Data Corp. (IDC)—DLT`s reign in the mid-range market appears secure. However, LTO could eventually provide some stiff competition. IDC expects LTO to ramp at a 62.4% CAGR from 2000 to 2003.

"Incompatible proprietary formats have been able to occupy the midrange market for some time, but each format has eventually fallen," explains Nick Allen, an analyst with the Gartner Group consulting firm, in Stamford, CT. "For example, Exabyte had a lock on this market for a long time, but was pushed off by DLT."

While Allen doesn`t believe Ultrium will similarly knock DLT out of the top spot, he does expect its entry to change market dynamics. "There may be two mountains with two kings," says Allen, "but first the LTO vendors will need to prove themselves."

With specs comparable to Super DLT, LTO may find strength in its numbers, not just its technology. Multiple drive/media sources, certified drive/media interchange by an independent third party, and support from key library vendors are expected to contribute to the format`s success.

Explains Kevin Perry, Seagate`s executive director of marketing and business development, removable storage solutions: "The key is that people can buy a Fujitsu, HP, IBM, or Seagate drive and cartridges from Fuji, Imation, Maxell, or Verbatim, for example, and be able to interchange back and forth."

Currently, more than 20 companies have purchased drive, manufacturing, media, and/or automation licenses. Last month, ADIC, Exabyte, and Plasmon announced library support for Ultrium, joining ATL Products and Overland Data. Media licensees include EMTEC, Fuji Photo Film, Hitachi Maxell, Imation, Quantegy, TDK, and Verbatim. (Complete licensing information can be found at www.lto-technology.com.)

Ultrium specs

Five Ultrium drives are expected to hit the market around the third quarter: two from HP and one each from IBM, Fujitsu, and Seagate. IBM hopes to get an edge on fellow LTO manufacturers by shipping its 100GB/15MBps drive, dubbed StorageSmart, early in 2000.

"Time to market is our silver bullet," says Charlene Murphy, general manager, OEM tape sales and marketing, IBM storage systems division. IBM is positioning the StorageSmart drive to compete in midrange and network server storage environments. IBM has joined forces with ADIC for a line of autoloaders and tape libraries.

Next up: HP and Seagate. Both manufacturers anticipate product delivery around mid-year. HP`s Ultrium drive features a 100GB native capacity and a 15MBps native transfer rate, as does Seagate`s Viper 200. Automation products are expected from both vendors. Additionally, existing HP SureStore 2/20, 4/40, and 6/60 libraries can be upgraded to support the new drive.

To close a gap between markets, HP in the second half of the year will introduce an entry-level Ultrium drive featuring a significantly slower transfer rate. "We`re positioning our entry-level drive against traditional DLT," says Tony Rush, marketing programs director for HP`s computer peripheral`s division in Bristol, England.

Also differentiating its Ultrium drive by its transfer rate is Fujitsu. In October, Fujitsu plans to ship the highest-performing Ultrium drive, with transfer rates well in excess of 15MBps native, according to Stephen Maccaux, business development manager for Fujitsu Computer Products` tape products group.

Super DLT update

Despite the onslaught of announcements from the LTO camp, Quantum has remained relatively quiet about Super DLT, which is expected to compete head-to-head with LTO.

Last month, Compaq announced support for Super DLT, as have library vendors ADIC, ATL, Breece Hill, Overland Data, and StorageTek. On the media front, Quantum has lined up Fuji, Maxell, and Imation, and Tandberg Data is reportedly planning to manufacture the drive at its Oslo, Norway, facility.

This month, Quantum entered the qualification stage of its five-step Customer Engagement Program. Market availability will depend on the length of that process, explains Mary Ellen Putnam, director of marketing, for Quantum`s advanced products group.

Super DLT features laser-guided magnetic recording and four supporting technologies (a pivoting optical servo, magneto-resistive cluster heads, advanced PRML channels, and advanced metal-particle media). The combination enables a native first-generation capacity of 100GB and a native 10MBps transfer rate, evolving to 1TB and 100MBps over 10 years.


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