Sony’s S-AIT tape gets jump on competitors

Sony Corp. this week announced the first tape drive and cartridge that breaks the 1TB capacity barrier. The Super Advanced Intelligent Tape (S-AIT) technology leapfrogs two rival tape drive formats by at least six months, based on those companies’ development road maps.

Sony’s Tape Storage Solutions division in San Jose said its S-AIT drive and cartridge, which sports a 500GB native capacity and a 1.3TB compressed capacity, will begin shipping this month to original equipment manufacturer partners.

S-AIT uses Sony’s midrange AIT technology, but in an extended 5.25-in. drive footprint. As an example of the capacity of an S-AIT tape configuration, a 100-cartridge library could store up to 130TB of data. Stand-alone S-AIT drives are expected to be priced at US$10,000, and automation-ready drives will start at an estimated $13,000, Sony said.

Sony’s announcement follows moves by other vendors that are racing to release high-capacity tape cartridges and faster tape drives.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Quantum Corp. announced earlier this month that it intends to grow its Super Digital Linear Tape (SDLT) product to 600GB of compressed storage capacity and a 64MB/sec. data transfer rate by mid-2003. Currently, SDLT drives can store up to 320GB of compressed data.

IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Seagate Technology LLC are the market leaders in super-tape-drive technology, with linear tape-open (LTO) products.

Last month, HP shipped the first version of a second-generation LTO product that has a 400GB compressed data capacity and 60MB/sec. throughput. Another version isn’t expected for another six to nine months. Sony’s S-AIT drive has a transfer rate of up to 78MB/sec. with compressed data.

Robert Amatruda, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that from a technology standpoint, Sony’s product is “a significant improvement from anything out there right now.”

“The key for Sony is to work on bringing the technology mainstream,” he said, referring to the need for the company to market the new drive to vendors of tape libraries.

Because S-AIT, SDLT and LTO 2 all come in half-inch form factors, library manufacturers such as Storage Technology Corp. and ADIC Corp. can easily modify their products to work with any one of them, Amatruda said.

Bob Abraham, president of storage market research firm Freeman Reports in Ojai, Calif., said Sony faces a tough climb in gaining converts to the new technology. Sony must prove S-AIT’s reliability and successfully market it — something the company didn’t do well with its older AIT product outside of the Asia-Pacific region, Abraham said.

“This is an entirely different marketplace than AIT,” he said. “It’s the next level up.”