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Benchmark drives Quantum technology roadmap

DLT tape specialist Quantum spells out its first roadmap in two years and offers the first details on its technology plans since it acquired fellow tape maker Benchmark.

Now that its acquisition of fellow tape maker Benchmark Storage Innovations Inc., has been completed, Quantum Corp. is spreading the word on its future plans. For the first time in more than two years, the company disclosed its technology roadmap and said it plans to give rival tape format maker LTO Ultrium a run for its money.

A top priority on its to-do list is the first Benchmark product to bear the Quantum brand. Quantum, based in Milpitas, Calif., announced availability of the ATL ValueLoader DLT VS80, the first Quantum 2U autoloader since the company's acquisition of Benchmark to use the Benchmark DLT ValuSmart 80 half-high tape drive.

The ValueLoader uses a single DLT VS80 tape drive with an eight-cartridge capacity and up to 640 GB of data storage and 21.6 GB/hour throughput. Quantum has integrated the ValueLoader into its ATL L-Series autoloader product line.

Quantum said the follow-on to the VS80, the Quantum VS160, is now in qualification and will ship early next year.

On the superdrive front, the company said new media and tape drive technology will come to market about every 15 to 18 months. Quantum experienced some success since last summer with its semi-new SDLT320 drive. Quantum is prepping the next incarnation of SDLT tape drive in the form of the SDLT600, which is designed to push data at speeds of 64 MB/sec. Looking even further into the future, Quantum plans to produce the SDLT1200 and SDLT2400 in the latter part of 2004 and 2006, respectively.

Quantum said these drives and media should hit the streets before the LTO camp debuts its third-generation LTO technology.

Robert Amatruda, research manager for International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said Quantum's saving grace could be its acquisition of Benchmark.

Quantum shelled out $11 million in cash and 13.1 million shares in Quantum stock last September for Benchmark, which gives it something it never had before, customers in the low-end market.

"With the acquisition of Benchmark, [Quantum] can tap into a group of customers that they have not been able to reach," said Amatruda. The addition of Benchmarks' ValuSmart tape drives combined with the new SDLT 320 tape drive could give Quantum the product line it needs to counter the early gains made by LTO technology. "The acquisition could help provide [Quantum's] salvation in the near term until they gain more ground on LTO," he said.

A recent report from Ojai, Calif.-based Freeman Reports said that tape revenues last year were down in every category except LTO, which showed a whopping 280% gain.

Shipments of LTO drives jumped to 92,000 units in 2001, twice the number of shipments of rival drive technology Super DLTtape (SDLT), which began shipping six months after the first LTO drive.

SuperDLT 320 tape features a capacity of 160 GB and a transfer rate of 16 MB/sec. However, second-generation SDLT is not expected until late 2003 and, according its current roadmap, will feature 320 GB of capacity and a 32 MB/sec transfer rate.

"Both the SDLT 320 and the second-generation LTO drives are coming to market very much on schedule, which is a little bit unusual in that new products are usually late," said Bob Abraham, president of Freeman Reports.

"These are real, working and should be available within the next few weeks," said Abraham, who added that intense competition for IT dollars will spawn an endless game of leapfrog between the LTO consortium and the SDLT camp.

He predicted that a new generation of each of the tape formats will arrive every six to nine months, which will keep the companies involved in a tight race for tape supremacy.

"This is going to go on ad infinitum," Abraham said. "Tape library manufacturers love it because they get a performance and capacity kick every nine months, but the customers are the ultimate beneficiaries." Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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