Sony, Exabyte map out 8mm plans
At Comdex last month, Sony and Exabyte demonstrated working models of next-generation 8mm tape drives. For the midrange tape market, the new drives could mean more capacity and better performance as early as the first half of 1998. But given the sketchy track record of the tape industry in delivering products on time, don`t hold your breath.
With a 50GB native capacity and 6MBps transfer rate, Sony`s second-generation Advanced Intelligent Tape (AIT) drive will offer twice the capacity and performance of the first-generation product. To hit this capacity/performance point, Sony lengthened the media and used a higher recording frequency, bit density, and drum speed than it did in previous models. However, the new drive is backward read and write compatible with the installed base of AIT products.
Except for a few bumps in the road, especially when the memory-in-cassette chip was initially released some six months ago, supply has not been a significant factor for Sony, as it has been for competing technologies such as Exabyte`s Mammoth and Quantum`s DLT7000.
Bolstering the market for AIT, Sony in May licensed AIT technology to Seagate. Last month, Seagate revealed that it has a design and development engineering team working on a future AIT product line, with full manufacturing expected as early as 1998. "We plan to begin assembly of our Sidewinder AIT products in Singapore within the next several months," says Kevin Perry, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Seagate`s tape division. This move would make AIT the second midrange tape product to have a true second source (Quantum was expected to be the first by announcing a second source for DLT drives this month). Sony has also reportedly lined up a second source for media; the agreement is in the final qualification stage.
In addition, Sony has signed an OEM agreement with Digital Equipment, the original developer of digital linear tape (DLT). Digital will sell AIT drives with its Alpha workstations, servers, and storage subsystems. Other AIT OEMs include SpectraLogic, Qualstar, and, most recently, Breece Hill. At Comdex, Breece unveiled FireFox, an automated tape library that accommodates both AIT and Exabyte 8mm tape in a single library enclosure.
AIT-2 is scheduled for release late in the first half of 1998, carrying about a $5,000 price tag--comparable to the initial MSRP of AIT-1 drives.