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Quantum, Sony scrap old tape formats

Sony will stop shipping the first generation of SAIT this fall and has no OEMs for the second generation. Meanwhile, Quantum is scratching development on SDLT.

As the tape market dwindles, two midrange proprietary half-inch tape formats, Sony Electronics Inc.'s SAIT and Quantum Corp.'s SDLT, are on their way out as a result of market dominance by LTO, according to company statements and industry analysts.

Sony officials confirmed that the first generation of the company's proprietary half-inch SAIT format will stop shipping in October, has learned. The second generation is still available, but will only be shipped directly to customers from Sony and is only supported by Sony's own PetaSite library, Sony officials also confirmed. (This is not to be confused with Sony's 8mm AIT format, which recently announced a fifth generation and new backward-compatibility features.)

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Without OEM partners to support SAIT in tape libraries, the format is all but dead, according to W. Curtis Preston, vice president of data protection services for Glasshouse Technologies Inc. "In the tape library and automation business, market share is king," he said. "Each tape library manufacturer has to spend development effort to understand form factors and understand how to get drives to function correctly with different formats -- and LTO has the support of IBM, Quantum and HP."

Meanwhile, in its annual report issued Aug. 17, Quantum told investors, "Going forward, we expect to focus on LTO technology to enhance an already solid position in this growing market …We have suspended further development in the DLT and SDLT technologies as we focus our investments in LTO technology, as well as new technology for growing … segments of the data storage market."

Quantum said it is focusing its tape research and development on LTO, but also recently announced a new agreement with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) that has HP handling LTO-5 products, from the selection of components to decisions about product packages, whereas Quantum will be handling the design work for meeting LTO-5 specifications.

Reached for comment this week, a company spokesperson said, "Tape is not a growth area for Quantum since we are focusing on our disk and software business."

Over this year, Quantum's major announcements have backed that up, including a refurbishing of the StorNext file system it acquired with Advanced Digitial Information Corp. (ADIC), new flexibility features for its data deduplication software sold with its DXi appliances and a bundling of the StorNext file system with HP's EVA at large multimedia accounts. This week, Quantum has followed up with the announcement of another new software tool called StorageCare Vision that automates and centralizes status monitoring, capacity utilization reporting, alerting and diagnostics on both disk and tape backup systems.

Quantum claims "a loyal DLT install base" with over two million drives. The DLT format, which includes both SDLT/DLT-S and DLT VS/DLT-V tape drives, represented approximately 14% of the tape drive market in 2006, according to IDC figures. In the midrange segment, where IDC categorizes super drives, such as SDLT/DLT-S and LTO full height drives, SDLT/DLT-S has about 6% market share.

"If, at some time in the future, there is a compelling reason to resume development, we would consider doing so," according to a company spokesperson in an email to SearchStorage, who added that Quantum will continue to sell and support all current DLT products, including the latest DLT-S4 and DLT-V4 generations, "for many years to come."

History repeating itself in the tape market?

Prior to LTO, according to Bob Amatruda, research director for tape storage for IDC, the tape market was historically focused on proprietary formats, whether high-end formats from IBM and StorageTek or midmarket formats, like SDLT and SAIT. In fact, SDLT was what took over from another stalled proprietary format, the Mammoth drive from Exabyte Corp. (See An era ends as Tandberg buys Exabyte, Sept. 30, 2006).

Now, according to the latest tape market research from Freeman Reports, total revenue from all tape libraries was $1.81 billion in 2006, a decline of 15.6% compared to 2005. The drop in industry revenue followed two consecutive years of revenue growth. The report also noted that tiered storage, which shifts tape into an archival rather than a daily backup role, is also a factor in the decline of tape library sales.

With tape taking on a reduced role in day-to-day backup, the market is shifting again, and once again it will be survival of the fittest, according to analysts.

"Both SDLT and SAIT have seen some pullback from OEMs, while the largest OEMs in the market take part in the LTO consortium," Amatruda said. "Those OEMs in turn have seen a marked change over the last three years aligning storage with their server and platform businesses, and that creates a barrier to entry for any other product."

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