IBM first to ship LTO tape

By Heidi Biggar

Steps ahead of its competitors, IBM next month will begin shipping a new class of high-capacity, high-performance Ultrium-based tape devices into midrange markets, becoming the first member of the Linear-Tape Open (LTO) consortium to lay claim to that space.

"From the users' perspective, this is a game changer," contends Brenda Zawatski, vice president, IBM Storage Systems Group. "The interchangeability of the LTO Ultrium format forces us to push the technology and solutions envelope." The line will complement IBM's existing Magstar 3590 tape family.

Similar to the highly successful digital data storage (DDS) model, Ultrium is based on an open-standard tape architecture-developed by Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Seagate-that allows for the interchange of both drives and media. However, analysts agree that multiple sources alone won't drive market acceptance from, for example, the entrenched DLT format to the untested Ultrium format.

"By and large, users like DLT," explains Bob Amatruda, senior tape analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC). "To get users to change platforms, they'll have to be offered something well above it. And a lot will depend on how well HP and IBM manage the technology on their own server platforms."

Nonetheless, analysts expect Ultrium to experience strong growth rates over the period 2000 to 2005. Freeman Reports pegs first-year shipments at 46,000 units, growing to 1.5 million units in 2005.

IBM's plans call for a quick one-two punch, starting with a standalone desktop drive (model 3580) and a 24-drive library (3585), followed a month later with a seven-cartridge autoloader (3581) OEM'd from Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC), and a small to mid-size library (3583). "We're also focused 'off-platform,' which means that in addition to targeting our RS/6000 and AS/400 platforms, we're focused on Sun, HP, Unix, and NT users, and we will support all leading ISVs."

In the October/November time frame, IBM will also roll out server-less backup support via Tivoli Storage Manager and Legato Celestra code, as well as other functionality. Fibre Channel connectivity is expected early next year.

Just how much of an edge IBM will have over HP and Seagate-or Quantum's DLT-in being first to market is debatable. "It's a market that's measured in years, not months," says IDC's Amatruda. Other factors, such as automation adoption/penetration, pricing, product migration/scalability and, in the case of DLT, installed base are just as-if not more-important. Seagate expects to begin shipping its Viper 200 Ultrium drive in October.

Nonetheless, IBM contends that time to market is key. "We're designing from the top down [from Magstar], as opposed to the bottom up, which means we're inventing less so we can get there faster and more inexpensively," Zawatski claims. Other differentiating features include:

  • A seek time of 6ms, up to 30% faster than competing products.
  • SAR, or statistic analysis reporting, which tracks the number of permanent errors on tape, notifying users before data is lost.
  • Soft-load capability, in which the drive does some of the "pushing" and "pulling" traditionally done by the robot, improving overall system reliability.
  • Multipath capability, or dynamic resource sharing-multi-server to multi-drive sharing, compared to "static" one-server-to-one-drive or one-server-to-two-drive configurations.

On a related note, Fujifilm late last month announced that it will begin shipping Ultrium 1 cartridges to LTO drive manufacturers, including IBM, this fall. The 100GB cartridges feature Fujifilm's ATOMM dual-coating technology.

ADIC automates LTO

Alongside IBM, Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC) last month revealed plans to begin shipping an array of LTO Ultrium-based libraries this fall. "It's the first time that a tape platform at launch has had this level of automated support," claims Steve Whitner, ADIC's director of marketing.

ADIC will integrate IBM's 3580 Ultrium tape drive, featuring 100GB of native capacity and a native 15MBps throughput, into its existing automation line. In turn, IBM will OEM ADIC's seven-tape FastStor autoloader, reselling it under its own label (IBM 3581 Ultrium).

ADIC's relationship with IBM is not exclusive. "IBM has a strong heritage in tape products, but if there's a compelling feature (e.g., form factor, performance, price) that we can't source from them, we're free to look at other vendors' products," says Whitner.

The ADIC lineup includes the LTO 200D subsystem (200GB compressed); FastStor/LTO autoloader (1.4TB compressed), which it is also OEM'ing to IBM; Scalar 100/LTO midrange library (14.4TB compressed); Scalar 1000/LTO data center library (28TB to 187.6TB compressed); and AML mixed-media libraries.

This article was originally published on August 01, 2000