High-performance tape rebounds slowly

Posted on August 01, 2000

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Users remain loyal to half-inch cartridge

By Heidi Biggar

Citing growth in traditional mainframe segments and new-found opportunity in evolving storage area network (SAN) markets, Bob Abraham, author of the Freeman Report, Performance Tape Outlook, projects unit shipments of high-performance tape drives to climb steadily over the period 2002 to 2005. The market last posted positive growth in 1996.

"The greatest growth will come from mainframe markets, but SANs will also contribute - albeit more slowly," says Abraham. Overall, total unit shipments (including half-inch cartridge, half-inch reel, half-inch helical, and 19-mm technologies) will increase to 73,400 by 2005, up from 54,500 this year. Total revenue is expected to rise slightly, from $1.2 billion in 1999 to $1.8 billion in 2005.

According to the study, half-inch cartridge accounted for 87% of 1999 shipments, led largely by strong sales of StorageTek's 9840 drives. "9840 sizzled in 1999, while sales of IBM's Magstar and Magstar-compatible drives were essentially flat," says Abraham. "The 9840 has a certain appeal that goes beyond StorageTek's customer base." While both IBM and StorageTek have successfully transitioned their customer bases to follow-on products, STK also claims to have earned more than 50% of its revenue from drive sales in the rapidly growing client-server space.

Ousting IBM from the top spot, StorageTek last year grabbed 41.3% of the overall high-performance tape market, compared to IBM's 40.9%. StorageTek is expected to widen the gap next year, when it will reportedly introduce a single-reel, lower-cost version of the 9840, specifically targeting the SAN arena.

While unit shipments of half-inch cartridge drives will do an about-face in 2001, shipments of half-inch reel and helical scan tape drives will continue to decline steadily, says Abraham. Half-inch reel shipments will bottom out in 2003; and sales of helical-scan models will continue to weaken. By 2005, half-inch helical shipments will decrease to 460 units, down from 1,124 drives in 1999. 19mm products are expected to decline at a 14% compounded rate of decline, from 362 units in 1999 to 148 drives in 2005, according to the report.

"There is no real growth opportunity in the helical-scan segment of the market, but there will always be a small market, comprised primarily of legacy users and bleeding-edge customers," explains Abraham. Both Ampex and Sony continue to evolve their respective DST and DTF drive/library families, targeting niche applications such as as video archival/retrieval, DVD authoring, seismic processing, and data acquisition.

Meanwhile, Sony and Fujitsu finished the year roughly even, at 4.5% and 4.1%, respectively, followed by Anritsu, Overland Data, M4 Data and Ampex.

As for the LTO and Super DLT threats, they're real, but not imminent, says Abraham. High-performance tape products such as 9840 are expected to move slowly down into the SAN space, while midrange products such as LTO, Super DLT, and 8mm will attempt to move up into more traditional enterprise markets.

"For the first time, high-end and low-end markets are beginning to converge," explains Abraham. "We're not going to see a colossal collision immediately, but we're going to see some overlap in the markets, with technologies serving much wider spectrums." However, performance, reliability, ruggedness, and price will continue to be key factors in user selection. Abraham does not expect users to switch platforms, noting strong loyalty among high-performance tape users.

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