Quantum, Sony target DDS market

Quantum buys Certance, Sony launches new AIT

By Heidi Biggar

While much of the attention in the tape industry has been on the "super-drive" category, the low-end market, which has long been dominated by the DDS/DAT format, has hardly been silent as vendors scramble for a share of the still-sizable market.

This month, Quantum is expected to complete its acquisition of Certance, a manufacturer of low-end Travan and DDS tape drives as well as midrange LTO Ultrium media and drives, and Sony recently introduced two new "turbo-charged" AIT drives as well as a fourth-generation AIT product.

Analysts expect the announcements to open new doors for both Quantum and Sony in the low-end and midrange tape markets.

"Sony's new AIT Turbo drives extend the life of the AIT-1 generation and will help the company get [market share in the DDS segment]," says Bob Abraham, analyst and author of the Freeman Report: Compact Tape Outlook 2004.

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As for Quantum, the addition of the Certance tape family to its product line means more options for its users in virtually all market segments, including the low-end where Quantum already plays with its "value" line of DLT VS180 and VS60 tape drives.

"There is a little overlap between DDS and Quantum's existing low-end value line, and the Certance acquisition puts Quantum in a good position in terms of its overall tape repertoire," says Abraham.

Despite competitive pressure from products such as Ecrix's VXA, Quantum's DLT VS, and Sony's AIT, as well as removable magnetic disk cartridges from Iomega, DDS has posted strong revenue and shipment numbers over the past couple of years and is expected to continue to represent a considerable market opportunity going forward.

"The DDS market is a non-negligible market, though it is declining slowly," says Abraham. It is forecast to generate a total of $415 million in revenue from more than 900,000 drive shipments this year, he says, although shipments are expected to decline to about 765,000 units in 2009.

Today, the bulk of DDS revenue comes from shipments of fourth-generation products, although fifth-generation drives from Certance and Hewlett-Packard are on a steep ramp. DDS-3 drives also contribute-albeit to a significantly lesser degree-to current revenue and unit shipments, according to Abraham.

Of the original DDS triumvirate, only Certance (formerly Seagate) and Hewlett-Packard have extended their DDS families beyond the fourth generation. Both companies are shipping fifth-generation drives and plan to develop sixth-generation DAT technology.

Sony, the missing member of the trio, continues to ship older generations of DDS technology but has shelved future plans for the technology, opting instead to push its AIT format into this market segment.

"Although we are doing well with AIT-1 [in this market segment], we knew that we needed to do something on the media side to attract DDS customers, [who were] concerned with media costs," says Brett Schecter, storage evangelist at Sony.

To get the cost of its AIT media down to about DDS levels, Sony opted to remove the Memory in Cassette (MIC) chip from the AIT-E Turbo media cartridge and to offer both an MIC and non-MIC cartridge for the AIT-1 Turbo drives. The MIC chip includes information about the tape system, including logs, which can speed up searches and access rates.

"By removing the MIC chip, users will lose a couple of milliseconds in access time but will realize [significant] cost savings," says Schecter. The media is priced at $20 per cartridge (or about $1 per megabyte) for the AIT-E Turbo media and $45 per cartridge for non-MIC AIT-1 Turbo cartridges. Drive pricing starts at $595 (see "at a glance," below).

Both the AIT-E Turbo and AIT-1 Turbo have a 6MBps data-transfer rate. The AIT-E cartridge has a native 20GB capacity, while the AIT-1 Turbo tops out at 40GB. Both allow for 2.6:1 compression. The cartridges use the same Advanced Evaporated Media (AME) media as previous AIT generations and the same 8mm form factor.

Meanwhile, in the midrange space, Sony announced shipments of its new AIT-4 drive through its reseller channels and is seeing some early traction with its automation partners-in particular, Qualstar. ADIC, Breece Hill, Qualstar, and Spectra Logic currently OEM Sony's AIT-3 drives.

Sony is also upgrading its AIT libraries with AIT-4 technology.

AIT-4 uses a new media formulation-AME II-and is backward read/write-compatible with AIT-3 but only backward read-compatible with AIT-1 and 2. It has a 200GB native capacity and a 24MBps data-transfer rate. Drive pricing starts at $3,500 for an internal model; media cartridges cost about $80. AIT-4 WORM cartridges will be available in the next quarter.

At A Glance

New Sony drives

AIT-E Turbo

  • Internal 3.5-inch SCSI (model AITi50/S)-$595
  • Internal ATAPI (AITi50-A/S)-$565
  • External SCSI (AITe50/S)-$795
  • 20GB non-MIC media (TAITE-20N)-$20

AIT-1 Turbo

  • Internal SCSI (model AITi100/S)-$695
  • Internal ATAPI (AITi100-A/S)-$665
  • External SCSI (AITe100/S)-$895 40GB
  • Non-MIC media (TAIT1-40N)-$45
  • 40GB MIC media (TAIT1-40C)-$55


  • Internal (AITi520/S)-$3,500
  • External (AITe520/S)-$3,700
  • Media-$80
  • WORM media-available Q1 2005

This article was originally published on December 01, 2004