Tape Capacity Wars

Monday Mar 31st 2003 by Leslie Wood
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The ongoing competition to create tape solutions capable of huge capacities isn't just for bragging rights, but with all the 'bragging' going on, the real question is how are tape drive manufacturers going to remain competitive and succeed in this evolving market?

While demand for data storage continues to evolve, the need for increased capacity is also evolving, a need that has companies across the globe looking for storage providers that can meet their increasing capacity demands today and into the future.

While it has been said that linear tape drives allow users to more easily add read/write heads to increase throughput and data transfer rates, the folks at Sony argue that their Super Advanced Intelligent Tape (SAIT) technology has competitive data transfer rates, and they believe that at some point in its development process SAIT technology will provide 2.5 times the capacity of linear tape drives.

"SAIT achieves its capacity because of helical-scan recording techniques," says John Woelbern, director of OEM marketing for Sony Electronics' Tape Storage Solutions Division. "By using helical-scan recording, Sony can realize a track density that is over two times higher than linear technologies. This means that for a 600-meter half-inch LTO cartridge, Sony can achieve at least 2.5 times the capacity of any LTO member at the same point in time," he continues.

Based on the roadmap outlined by the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) consortium, Woelbern says that SAIT will maintain this capacity advantage over the format throughout the next decade. Additionally, he contends that while LTO's native capacity isn't expected to reach 1TB until its fifth generation in 2009, Sony's second-generation SAIT cartridges (SAIT-2) will feature over 1TB native when it debuts in two years. "Both half-inch linear drives and SAIT have the ability to increase performance by adding more read/write heads and channels, and there is no significant advantage of one over the other in this regard," says Woelbern.

SAIT's debut is only the latest step in the ongoing vendor competition to increase tape storage capacity and to reduce the cost of storage per gigabyte. However, the high-profile battle has been waged in the mid-market arena where LTO has faced off against Quantum's SDLT technology. Woelbern says that both LTO and SDLT utilize the same linear serpentine recording technology with the same limitations caused by wide track spacing and MP media utilization. In addition, Woelbern asserts that SDLT technology slightly lags the LTO implementation in regards to capacity and density.

"We believe that SAIT will have a larger advantage over the SDLT planned roadmap," he continues. He also notes that Sony's SAIT is an enterprise-class technology, and that Sony has a separate format, AIT, for the midrange market. "AIT-3 is the most current version of the format, with 100GB native (260 GB compressed) capacity and 12MB/s native (31MB/s compressed) data transfer rate. AIT-4, with double the capacity and performance, will debut this year," he says.

Page 2: Quantum and SDLT Also Battle Entrenched LTO

Quantum and SDLT Also Battle Entrenched LTO

Quantum has come out with its version of a "super tape" based on the SuperDLtape (SDLT) technology. According to Steve Berens, Quantum's senior director of product marketing and strategy, Sony's SAIT technology has offered a new entrant technology with no backward compatibility to anything, including its own abandoned 8mm AIT format. He also states that Sony delivers a drive that is oversized for the majority of the market.

"The SAIT drive, says Berens, is significantly out of form factor length, making it difficult to integrate into automation." Berens believes that customers are seeking a smart balance between capacity and speed, and that Quantum's SDLT 320 has achieved that. "Customers measure cost of storage on more than one metric, including acquisition cost, implementation cost, management cost, and just plain total cost of ownership," he states. Berens says that DLTtape has excelled in all these areas for over a decade and continues to focus on simplifying customers' data protection with value and performance offerings that are compatible and cost effective.

Yet according to industry analyst Bob Abraham, president of Freeman Reports, twice as many LTO drives as SDLT drives shipped in 2001 -- a year in which LTO was the only tape category to show revenue growth. As we all know, part of LTO's strength came from its well-publicized technology road map, so how do Sony and Quantum measure up to LTO?

While Sony's Woelbern agrees that a solid and sustainable roadmap is a key factor in market adoption, he also believes that users want to know that their tape storage investment is going to last and that the company providing them with storage solutions is stable and innovative. "Sony has a six-generation roadmap for SAIT that has been verified through internal testing, and Sony has proven its ability to execute according to its roadmap," he says.

Berens argues that DLTtape has shown to be the fastest growing technology in the super drive category and that SDLT has taken significant share in the category over the last year based on Bob Abraham's estimates. "In fact, says Berens, DLTtape is the only player now delivering Super drives with backward compatibility to the large installed base. Berens says that while LTO has shipped 1,000 petabytes of storage capacity, DLTtape has shipped 5 to 6 times that amount.

"Investing in technology has kept Quantum in a true leadership position in the market," says Berens. "We have consistently been delivering products on a faster cycle time than LTO. "Data protection is our core business, and we are extremely focused and committed to this market and believe that this will continue to bear fruit for customers and our business," he continues.

Page 3: More than Just Bragging Rights at Stake

More than Just Bragging Rights at Stake

The ongoing competition to create tape solutions capable of huge capacities isn't just for bragging rights, but with all the "bragging" going on, the real question is how are these tape drive manufacturers going to remain competitive and succeed in this evolving market?

Sony's Woelbern says that one of the ways to remain competitive and succeed in this market is vertical integration. "Sony's competitive edge is its technology capability and internal manufacturing capability," he says. "This, together with a diverse tape storage product line, from DDS to AIT and now SAIT, provides Sony with a unique competitive advantage," he continues.

Quantum's Berens, on the other hand, says that one of the ways to remain competitive in this ever-evolving market is by focusing on customers' needs. And, in his opinion, the ultimate success factor is understanding how customers use and implement data protection. "Technology for technology's sake is problematic. We have directed our efforts toward delivering simple, reliable, and effective answers for customers' data protection needs," says Berens.

There are many factors driving the need for more storage capacity, and according to some industry experts, one of the primary factors is the digitization craze that's sweeping the nation and spanning multiple industries. "Whether it's CNN or a hospital, files and records are losing their value in analog and hard-copy form, and the future rests with digital capabilities," says Woelbern. In addition, Woelbern believes that enterprises are seeing their data warehouses rapidly expanding and that this mission-critical data needs to be securely backed up on a regular basis.

According to International Data Corporation (IDC), the compounded annual growth rate for data storage has exceeded 79 percent, and e-business and other enterprise technology trends such as ERP, CRM, and data warehousing are doubling the amount of corporate data every six months. In addition, vertical and multimedia applications that demand larger storage capacities -- such as broadcast, production and post-production digital content management, medical and financial record retention, video storage, and surveillance -- are expanding data storage needs. Woelbern says he foresees SAIT being effectively utilized in many different application areas.

What's in Store for the Future?

It looks as though the tape capacity wars are going to continue as vendors continually look for better ways to solve their increased capacity needs, but as with anything else, the future holds many challenges for tape storage manufacturers.

Woelbern says that one of those future challenges is to continue to promote tape as the most cost-effective backup and archival medium and thereby silence the tape vs. disk debate. He also notes that on the technology front, linear formats such as LTO and SDLT will face significant challenges in tape drive design and media formulation to implement a roadmap that provides much more capacity than 1TB per cartridge.

Berens says that the major challenge for all tape storage manufacturers in the years ahead will be to remain committed, focused, and dedicated to value delivery. "Our market has experienced more and more consolidation," says Berens, "and we will continue to see that simplification will be the outcome of the consolidation."


» See All Articles by Columnist Leslie Wood


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