Tape library shipments rise, revenue dips

LTO making inroads against Super DLT

By Heidi Biggar

All things considered, the tape library market had a good year last year, but not as solid as many had anticipated. According to Freeman Reports' annual tape library report, total unit shipments grew 3% in 2001, to 63,500 units, while total revenue dropped slightly, to $2.2 billion.

Slower-than-expected storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) adoption and tight IT budgets conspired to keep the market off its 2000 record pace.

The effect of September 11 on the tape library market was hard, but temporary, explains Bob Abraham, author of the Freeman report. "There was virtually no business for six weeks, but by the end of December, the library market had caught up." September 11 raised end-user awareness about the importance of backup and disaster recovery, and in doing so, actually stimulated tape library sales, he says.

Despite the lull, Abraham projects steady growth for the market through 2007. He expects total unit shipments to increase at a 13% CAGR, to 134,800 units in 2007, with revenue climbing to $3.6 billion.

Rising capacity requirements, increased SAN/NAS adoption, and resource consolidation are expected to continue to drive library sales going forward, according to Abraham. Tape libraries also provide cost-effective redundancy for mission-critical databases on direct-attached storage devices and are essential in darkened data centers that require automated media handling, he says.

LTO takes Off

Just as no one could have forecast the impact the economy would have on tape library sales last year, no one could have predicted the run that the LTO Ultrium format would have in its first full year of shipments.

"LTO libraries took market share from every competing technology in virtually every market segment," says Abraham. "LTO was the only category to show growth in 2001, which more than offset the combined declining shipments of all other categories."

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According to Abraham, shipments of LTO libraries increased from just 700 units in 2000 to more than 13,000 units in 2001. Meanwhile, DLT library shipments fell 12% to 36,200 units. In terms of market share, DLT libraries accounted for 57% of total unit shipments; LTO Ultrium, 21%; and 8mm, 16%. Shipments of Magstar MP, half-inch cartridge, and helical-scan libraries comprised the balance.

The main reason for LTO's success is simple, says Abraham. When Quantum didn't deliver Super DLT on time, LTO was ready. It's an all-too-familiar story, he says, referring to the series of missteps made by Exabyte in getting first- and second-generation 8-mm Mammoth technologies to market, which opened the door for the success of DLT.

Despite LTO's strong showing last year, Abraham does not expect to see it—or for that matter, DLT—to be the run-away winner. Instead, he anticipates a horse race between the technologies, with the two neck and neck by 2007. DLT is expected to have a slight edge in unit shipments, while LTO will top the revenue board with an estimated $1.5 billion, versus $1.1 billion for DLT.

Abraham expects DLT and LTO together to account for 82% of library shipments in 2007, and for 72% of library revenue.

Competition from Disk
As for threats to tape from competing technologies, such as disk-based backup alternatives from vendors like Alacritus, Maxtor, Network Appliance, Nexsan, Quantum, and Sony, Abraham says they're not a substitute for tape. One inherent advantage of tape, he says, is its removability.

Disk-based backup offerings are designed to address the pain points of backing up to tape (i.e., slow backup and restore, and low confidence in the overall backup process) at competitive prices. Quantum, the only tape vendor in the trio, says its system is not designed to replace tape, but to complement it.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2002