Reaction to Quantum’s announcement last month that it has begun shipping qualification units of non-backward-compatible Super DLTtape (SDLT) drives to its library partners and select OEMs has been mixed.

On the one hand, news of the first SDLT drive marks a milestone for the tape-drive manufacturer; on the other hand, it draws attention to potential product missteps-most notably, the inability to bring a backward read-compatible drive to market earlier this fall.

“They said they would ship something in this time frame and they have,” says Fara Yale, chief analyst at Gartner Group’s Dataquest research firm, “but the real important announcement will be the backward-compatible product.”

Quantum is expected to announce a backward read-compatible drive-by year-end. Both drives have a 110GB native capacity and an 11MBps native throughput.

Without backward compatibility, SDLT cannot leverage an installed base of more than 40 million DLT cartridges. “Without that, they’re pretty much on a level playing field-or somewhat behind-Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Ultrium, which is already shipping in production units,” says Yale.

Hewlett-Packard and IBM began shipping LTO Ultrium units in volume in late September/early October; Seagate was expected to announce volume shipments last month (see “IBM ships LTO first,” Sept-ember 2000, p.1).

While Quantum recognizes the critical importance of adding a backward-compatible drive to the SDLT line-up, the company expects the non-compatible variant to gain initial acceptance in certain library environments (e.g., mixed-media libraries) and for some applications where backward read-compatibility is not required. Full backward read-write compatibility can be achieved by mixing SDLT and DLT 8000 drives.

Quantum has shipped initial qualification units to ADIC, Compaq, Overland, Quantum/ ATL, and StorageTek. Library qualification is expected to take six to eight weeks.

The SDLT road map also calls for an 80GB, 8MBps follow-on product by March 2001, followed by a 16MBps “performance” drive later in the year. Both products will be based on the first-generation platform and will carry the SDLT1 label.

First-generation SDLT drives are expected to list for less than $10,000, with the media priced at less than $200 per cartridge. Media suppliers include Fujifilm, Imation, and Maxell.