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Quantum strikes back with Super DLTtape drives

The world of automated tape drives just got more interesting. Quantum Corp.'s DLT & Storage Systems Group announced here at Networld + Interop in Atlanta, Ga., that it has begun shipments of its next-generation Super DLTtape (SDLT) drives to its automated tape library partners. The Super DLTtape drive is based upon Quantum's industry-dominant DLTtape format.

Advanced Digital Information Corp., Overland Data, Inc., ATL, a unit of Milpitas, Calif.-headquartered Quantum's DLT and Storage Systems Group and StorageTek, are the first library makers to receive the new drives for their respective automated product lines.

"The tape storage industry has eagerly anticipated Quantum's shipping its first-generation Super DLTtape units," said Robert Abraham, president of Freeman Reports.

Super DLTtape has been three years in the making and has had to keep pace with development efforts by some heavy-hitters in the storage industry including an effort by IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Seagate to develop a competing tape format. The result of which is Linear Tape Open (LTO) technology.

IBM and company are making a run for a piece of Quantum's huge DLTtape market share by debuting its LTO tape drive one month ago. The size of Quantum's installed base of DLTtape products to date is more than 1.5 million drives and 50 million cartridges shipped.

Abraham said that the race has been tight from the start. "It was within a day that both camps announced their products." "I think all of the companies are on track. They've all been under a lot of pressure," he said.

Though it's an uphill climb against the entrenched DLT format and now the SDLT threat, IBM is banking on the interchangeability of the Ultrium LTO Data Cartridge to entice customers to adopt the new technology.

The pent up demand for these technologies from OEM's that have been evaluating the products will also drive demand, according to Abraham. "There will be some converts [from DLT to LTO]. A lot of companies will offer both technologies. There will be some fierce competition and that's good, because that in itself will expand the market."

As far as an overall victor in the race Abraham is neutral. "We're bullish on both technologies. We see them both succeeding very well."

International Data Corp.'s projections put the worldwide tape automation market at nearly double its current size, reaching $4.6 billion by 2004.

The ace up Quantum's sleeve in its play to remain atop the tape market could be its ability to retain the DLT faithful. The SDLT drives offer backward-read compatibility with the existing DLTtape product family, leaving customers using DLTtape drives and libraries with a clear upgrade path to Super DLTtape. Also, like previous generations of DLTtape drives, Super DLTtape is expected to support all major systems and platforms, including UNIX, Linux, Netware, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Mac OS.

Among the performance enhancements over DLT, SDLT utilizes laser guided magnetic recording, a pivoting optical servo, and Advanced Metal Powder (AMP) media.

Though there is no set price to date, Quantum's Manager of SDLT product marketing, Phillip Treide, says it will fall within a range of $8,000-$10,000.

Quantum has said that following the first shipment of Super DLTtape drives, which have a drive capacity of 110G Bytes and a transfer rate of 11M-Bytes/sec., it will develop a family of Super DLTtape products scaling from workgroup, to mid-range and enterprise environments.

The smaller drive, for workgroup and departmental servers, will boast 80G Bytes of capacity and a transfer rate of 8M Bytes/sec. The mid-range market, including large corporate departments and mid-size automated libraries, will see a drive capacity of 110G Bytes and transfer rate of 11M Bytes/sec. The planned Super DLTtape drive with a transfer rate of greater than 16M Bytes/sec.

Storage media developer and manufacturer Maxell is the first media supplier to qualify and will soon begin production of Super DLTtape I media. Quantum is currently qualifying several more media suppliers.

Super DLTtape I media utilizes the Advanced Metal Particle (AMP) formulation for a higher recording density and an increase in capacity. SDLT I media also incorporates a back coating that contains optical servo tracks. By implementing optical servo tracks on the backside of the media, customers are able to use the entire magnetic surface of the media for recording data. The new Super DLTtape cartridge is also encased in a more rugged cartridge to fend off incidental damage from being dropped.

"The complexity and quality of Super DLTtape I media necessitates production from leading media developers in the market," said Bob Amatruda, senior research analyst at IDC. "The attainment of this milestone is a critical factor in Quantum's strategy to deliver Super DLTtape."

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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