Fujifilm Sets Up Satellite Tape Tracking

Deploys military-style technology for keeping track of tapes

November 10, 2007

4 Min Read
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Fujifilm claims to have pioneered a way to avoid the trauma of lost media, teaming up with defense specialist QinetiQ to build a GPS-based tracking system for tape cartridges.

The Tape Tracker solution is a essentially a tape cartridge with the tape stripped out and replaced with a GPS receiver and cellular transmitter. By placing this device into a carrying case alongside other 'real' cartridges, users can keep track of the case's movements, according to Fujifilm.

"Lost tapes are typically lost in transit," explains Rich Gadomski, vice president of marketing for the vendor's recording media division. "This is a way for the data center manager to keep track of those assets."

The technology could also let firms keep an eye on data when it passes into the hands of disaster recovery firms such as Iron Mountain, which was recently accused of losing Social Security numbers and other data on thousands of Louisiana college students.

Fujifilm and QinetiQ are certainly going to new lengths in an attempt to prevent this type of incident. The Tape Tracker's receiver captures a GPS signal from a satellite and then transmits the cartridge's location to the Internet via the cellular phone network."The intention is to run this as a Web service," says Dan Greenberg, Fujifilm's new product planning manager, explaining that IT managers use a Web application called FujiFind to access the tracking data on the Internet.

At least one analyst thinks that there is a market for this type of technology. "This is one way of knowing where your shipment is," says Mike Kahn, managing director at the Clipper Group. "There's a lot of 'James Bond' in all this, but it's an interesting idea."

Fujifilm has confirmed that the solution's GPS components were developed by QinetiQ, formerly the U.K. Government's shadowy Defence Evaluation Research Agency (DERA), and have their roots in military technology.

"The custom GPS receiver that we use was tweaked for this specific purpose," says Dan Greenberg, Fujifilm's product marketing manager, explaining that the receiver is much more powerful than a traditional GPS.

"The standard GPS that you have in your car needs a direct view of a satellite, but this is much more sensitive," he added. "It's more like the GPS system found in a missile's warhead."Around 10 companies are currently beta testing the solution, which will be available in the first quarter of next year, although Fujifilm is keeping the identities of these firms under wraps. Greenberg would only confirm that trials are under way in the finance and consumer services industries.

One IT manager unlikely to deploy Tape Tracker is Mike Cannon, data storage architect and manager at Clemson University in Anderson, S.C.

"I don't think that we would be interested in it at this point in time," he says, explaining that the university's two sites are only nine miles apart. "We have a state employee that works for us full-time moving the tapes back and forth."

"But my former employer, which is in the aerospace industry [and] mails tapes from Alabama to New Jersey, I think would be more interested," he adds.

Fujifilm is not the first vendor to turn its attention to tape tracking, although other efforts in this space have focused largely on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-based tracking. HP, for example, used RFID tags to monitor data center kit as part of a trial at Michigan-based retailer Meijer, although the vendor has not yet revealed whether this technology will be built into future product offerings.Removable media specialist Imation has also thrown its weight behind RFID, unveiling a tape tracking solution earlier this year.

The DataGuard rf solution includes RFID tags for LTO, DLT, 3590, 34x0, 9x40, 3592, and T10000 tape cartridges, with tagged cartridges scanned via a mobile reader or pad. Tim Bjork, market development manager for Imation, says that the vendor is now looking beyond RFID.

We’re currently finalizing several enhancements to DataGuard rf over the next few months," he wrote in an email to Byte and Switch, explaining this could include the addition of GPS.

RFID and GPS tracking will appeal to very different use cases, according to Clipper Group's Kahn. "They are very different and you have to decide what you're protecting against," he says. "RFID is really short range tracking and GPS is really long range."

"If you want to protect a cartridge being lost amongst thousand of other cartridges then RFID might be better," adds the analyst.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • The Clipper Group Inc.

  • Fujifilm U.S.A. Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Imation Corp.

  • Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM)

  • QinetiQ Ltd.

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