Three, possibly four, vendors are fighting for first-mover advantage as the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) wave builds in the distance.
After Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Seagate Technology made sweeping announcements eons ago that they would manufacture the open-format tape drives, slated to hit the market some time this year, it has been all quiet of the vendor front. That is, until now.
The competition to hit the market first is now intense, with vendors having to push back potential release dates after over-extending their initial intentions. But until the products fill distributor warehouses, the channel has to wait before it can take advantage of what industry pundits believe will capture 30 per cent of the tape drive market within the first two years of LTO availability.
Meanwhile, vendors are touting LTO as having the potential to revolutionise the tape drive market currently dominated by Quantum's Digital Linear Tape (DLT) offerings. LTO is set to eradicate propriety issues of sharing media between storage drives, as well as promising to bring better performance, larger capacity and quicker backup speeds.
But not everyone is convinced. Graham Penn, director of Storage Research, Asia Pacific, for research firm International Data Corp, claims the new open-standard storage drives will be facing off against Super-DLT (S-DLT), which is expected to hit the market around the same time as LTO.
Penn believes the logical migration path for an enterprise towards higher capacity at greater speed, is Quantum S-DLT, which has similar specifications to the entry-level LTOs and is expected to be backwards compatible to standard DLT. As such, companies will not have to reinvest substantially in new media.
"The last thing they want is to change everything they've got for not a lot of performance benefits," Penn said. "If its real competitor was DLT, then LTO would be in with a shot at achieving critical mass. It's [Quantum S-DLT's] market to lose."With a cloud hanging over media interoperability between LTO vendors, Penn claims LTO will have to prove "real benefits out in the field" before it is widely accepted.
"My guess is, in 18 months, and this is a very brave prediction, DLT will have 60 per cent of the market, 30 per cent will be LTO and the remaining share will be with other technologies [in the mid-market space]."However, Scott Baird, channels account manager for IBM storage distributor BlueStor, is optimistic about LTO's entrance to the market. "I think we're moving into a different world in tape backup," said Baird. "The exciting part about it is that we're going from probably around 50-60GB [with DLT] to around 100GB, so we're doubling what the market can get in capacity, and speed wise we're at least matching. Better speed, better capacity from day one and then the road map is for doubling that."Tape storage stalwart David Davoren, GM of storage distributor Digital Tape Solutions, is also watching the vendor competition closely.
"None of the three major LTO manufacturers can afford not to ramp up quickly.
They don't want to lose ground on each other," Davoren said.
The argument in favour of LTO take up is that a number of major players are backing this technology with R&D and cashed-up marketing campaigns to drive end-user demand. With this type of competition, the road map for next generation LTO looks promising."But with such tightly contested speed to market, Davoren is weary of potential shortages. "I believe we will have some product supply problems in the initial days. I mean, it will be like when we first started DLT. We used to have to ration and people would be booking production slots almost to get a hold on these drives."HP expects product to be with distributors by November. Production lines are in full swing and OEM partners will be receiving shipments as soon as September/October, according to a company spokesperson.
IBM, touted by many as the frontrunner, will possibly be making pre-announcements as early as this week, with products arriving soon after.
Seagate Technologies' Viper 200 LTO Ultrium, with a compressed capacity of 200GB, is expected within 30-60 days. It was initially slated for the first half of this year, according to a statement released in February.