Sony Corp. recently announced the first production tape drive and cartridge that breaks the 1TB capacity barrier, leapfrogging two competing cartridge and drive technologies by at least six months, according to those companies’ development road maps.

Sony’s San Jose-based Tape Storage Solutions Division said its Super Advanced Intelligent Tape (S-AIT) drive and cartridge, which sports a 500GB native capacity and a 1.3TB compressed capacity, will begin shipping to OEM partners this month.

S-AIT leverages 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 .13 petabytes of data.

Standalone S-AIT drives are expected to have a price of US$10,000, and automation-ready drives will start at an estimated $13,000.

Sony’s announcement follows those by other vendors racing to release high-capacity tape cartridges and faster tape drives in order to hold market share.

Quantum Corp. last week announced that it wants to grow its Super Digital Linear Tape product to 640GB capacity and 64MB/sec. transfer rates by mid-2003.

IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Seagate Technology Inc. currently are the leaders in market share in super tape drive technology, with linear tape-open (LTO) products. HP is expected to ship its second-generation LTO 2 product this month. It will have 200GB native capacity and about 30MB/sec. throughput. Sony’s S-AIT drive also has a 30MB/sec. native throughput rate.

Bob Abraham, president of market research firm Freeman Reports in Ojai, Calif., said Sony faces a tough climb in gaining converts to the new technology in that it must prove its reliability and successfully market it – something the company didn’t do well with its AIT product.

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

But because Sony’s market has primarily been in the Asian-Pacific area, Abraham said the company will likely be “relatively successful” in pitching the product for heavy-duty applications there.

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