IBM invigorates LTO tape storage 

Certance, IBM deliver storage drives based on third-generation LTO technology

LTO (linear tape open)-based drives are invigorating the tape storage market. New third-generation LTO drives from Certance and IBM are powering the trend.

IBM TotalStorage 3580 Tape Drive Generation 3 offers 80MB per second native throughput and enables as much as 800GB of storage on a single tape cartridge. Quantum-owned Certance, meanwhile, earlier this month introduced the CLL 6400 LTO Ultrium 3, a tape backup autoloader that uses LTO Generation 3 technology. The eight-cartridge robotic carousel system stores as much as 6.4TB of data and starts at $8,500.

After a shaky start, LTO drives have caught on as the tape drive of choice, particularly for departments and midsize companies. Last year more than 260,000 LTO drives were shipped, representing a 50 percent increase over 2002, according to Gartner Dataquest. LTO drives are most often used in autoloaders for automated backup, said Peter Gerr, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

“This third generation of LTO is significant because the new systems can read and write to Generation 2 media and read first-generation media. That means IT managers will not have to replace a lot of their backup tapes,” Gerr said.

The latest release of the storage technology is also a sign that the tape market is far from dead, despite the declining cost of disk drives. “More often than not, we’re seeing some organization augment their tape infrastructures, and some may eventually replace their tape infrastructure totally. But most enterprise customers are not looking to get rid of tape,” Gerr said.

Both Certance and IBM, along with Hewlett-Packard, belong to the LTO Technology group,  founded in 1997 to develop an open-format solution for tape backup. The group is chartered with guiding the development road map for LTO technology.

The LTO four-generation road map calls for 800GB compressed capacity and as much as 160MB per second of compressed data transfer in the third generation, and 1.6TB compressed capacity and as much as 320MB per second of compressed data transfer in the fourth generation. Analysts expect the fourth-generation drives to be available in approximately two years. The LTO Technology group has not yet released a timetable for technology after Generation 4 but is expected to do so later this year or earlier next year.

The price of second-generation LTO systems has been falling. Earlier this month, Exabyte released its Magnum 1X7 LTO Autoloader, a 2U rack-mountable automated backup and restore system using Generation 2 LTO technology priced less than $5,000. “We expect to see the prices stay competitive, with LTO 3 technology getting only about a 10 percent premium over LTO 2 technology,” Gerr said.

Although the LTO Generation 3 drives meet specifications, IBM introduced some innovations.

“They put some work into the technology with their dynamic braking technology that puts less strain on the tape. That’s a good indication they have a lot of faith in this technology,” Gerr said.

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