This week is shaping up to be one of the busiest in storage tape history, with HP and Sony teaming up to create the next generation of Digital Audio Tape (DAT), while Sun and IBM fight for the crown of being first with a 1 terabyte (TB) tape drive.
To some, the news signals that tape storage remains alive and well in the era of ever-cheaper hard drives.
"Tape is the Rodney Dangerfield of storage," Robert Amatruda, research director at IDC, told InternetNews.com. "No doubt there has been a decline in the market, but it's still a relevant technology widely deployed. The news proves there's still strong investment in what's become a mature technology."
Tape has long been an important piece of the storage infrastructure puzzle for many businesses, especially small and midsized companies that need economical and easy-to-manage backup and disaster recovery.
While it doesn't dominate the storage market like it did during the mid- to late 1990s, tape has evolved into a reliable, strong performing fit for lower-end markets, according to Bob Wilson, vice president of storage platforms for HP StorageWorks.
"Its death is overly exaggerated as it's a very vibrant technology," Wilson told InternetNews.com.
That vibrancy is what prompted HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Sony (NYSE: SNE) to co-develop DAT 320, the seventh generation of the Digital Data Storage (DDS) standard, announced today. The two vendors will build and sell their own tape drives on the new standard.
"Demand for higher-capacity data backup and archiving continues to be important for small and midsized businesses and enterprise environments," Masayoshi Sugiyama, president for Sony's chemical device business group, said in a statement. "Combining HP's six DAT generations and Sony's 50-year history in magnetic recording technology provides a compelling solution."
The DAT 320 will offer up to 320 gigabytes (GB) of capacity on a single cartridge, double what the current DAT 160 provides. The vendors said the new format will need less energy per GB while also remaining backward compatible.
Terabyte tape arrives -- twice
Elsewhere in the tape world, Sun and IBM are dueling for the title of the first to market with a 1 TB drive, with each announcing products this week.
IBM (NYSE: IBM) today launched the System Storage TS1130 Tape Drive, targeted toward midsized businesses in financial services and life sciences as well as the public sector.
The product's 160MB/sec. speed is 54 percent faster than the previous-generation drive. But it's the new tape head that's the compelling technology story, according to Bruce Master, worldwide tape storage marketing manager at IBM.
The Giant Magnetoresistive (GMR) head design, which has been in development for years, cuts down data read errors, improves data integrity and reliability, he said.
"You can put more tracks on the tape with this head, and that means write more data," Master said, describing the design as similar to a wide, one-lane road that's divided into eight lanes to support greater traffic flow.
Additionally, the new head's design could mark a change that remains in place for years to come.
"This first-generation GMR should be a good technology for the next eight to 10 years," Master said, adding that other tape elements have in recent years undergone similar evolutions, including the chipset and read/write elements. Together, such improvements have contributed to tape's continued progress.
"Just 10 years ago, we were excited about 10 GB on a tape, now it's a hundred fold that capacity," he said.