Quantum Seeks SDLT Salvation

With launch of SDLT 600, it hopes to recapture momentum in midrange tape drives

October 15, 2003

4 Min Read
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Quantum Corp. (NYSE: DSS) -- which has suffered setbacks in its core tape drive business in recent quarters -- is banking on the launch of its latest Super Digital Linear Tape (SDLT) drive, the 600, to return it to dominance in the midrange tape space (see Quantum Ships SDLT 600).

The SDLT 600 provides 72 MByte/s compressed transfer rate and 600 GB compressed capacity. That finally gives SDLT the specs to beat its primary competitor in the midrange tape drive space, Linear Tape Open (LTO), on capacity, and roughly match its performance. The second generation of LTO, which is currently available in the market, provides compressed throughput of up to 80 MByte/s and compressed capacity of 400 GB per cartridge.

Analysts give the SDLT 600 technology the thumbs up, saying it will give Quantum the opportunity to recapture the momentum in the market.

"From the standpoint of the implementation, it's fabulous -- no question about it," says Robert Amatruda, IDC's research manager for tape and removable storage. "This is much more appropriate to be placed inside libraries and tape subsystems... The link between SDLT 600 and automation partners is key."

Over the past two years, Quantum has lost a significant share to LTO, a technology jointly supported by Certance LLC, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). The LTO consortium has been able to beat Quantum to market with deliver greater capacity and performance (see Quantum Tapes Up Roadmap).However, the feeds and speeds of SDLT 600 are behind another format, Sony Corp.'s (NYSE: SNE) Super AIT (SAIT), which currently provides 1.3 Tbytes compressed storage capacity and a 78 MByte/s compressed transfer rate. SAIT's market share, though, is far less than either LTO or SDLT.

Although Quantum is a bit behind schedule in delivering SDLT 600 -- it originally expected to ship the drives in mid-2003 -- company executives say they've learned their lesson after being humbled by LTO. "It was a price we paid in terms of market share, but we're taking it back now," says Steve Berens, senior director of product marketing and strategy at Quantum. "I don't think they'll be leapfrogging us again."

Berens notes that Quantum has parallel engineering teams working on next-generation tape technologies; for instance, a separate group is developing the SDLT 1200 format, and the 600 team will eventually be redeployed to work on the 2400.

Another key piece of the launch of 600 drive is DLTsage, the umbrella marketing term for new management features that allow IT administrators to better monitor tape drives. DLTsage, which Quantum introduced earlier this summer, is available as a standard feature only for the SDLT 600; the features are supported on 320 and 220 drives via a firmware upgrade (see Quantum Tape Drives Speak Up).

"The 600 is basically a drive we've focused on making enterprise-class not only in terms of reliability, speed, and capacity, but also in terms of manageability," says Berens.Amatruda believes DLTsage is a clear differentiating factor for Quantum. "End users do want the ability to clearly ascertain what is going on with their drive, and if there is a failure," he says.

Along with the SDLT 600, Quantum is also introducing a new cartridge, the Super DLTtape II. The company says Super DLTtape II has a thinner magnetic recording layer and a magnetic particle size that is 40 percent smaller than the previous generation. The new cartridges could provide a much-needed boost to Quantum's bottom line: Quantum last week warned that its second-quarter results would be lower than previously expected, mainly because of the pressure on media cartridge pricing (see Quantum Pares Back Forecast).

Berens says the SDLT 600 -- which will be able to read older Quantum tape formats, including SDLT 320 and 220 and DLT VS160 -- is slated to be available to channel partners starting in early November. It's also in qualification testing at a number of tape library vendors, including Advanced Digital Information Corp. (Nasdaq: ADIC), Overland Storage Inc. (Nasdaq: OVRL), Quantum's own Storage Solutions Group, and Tandberg Data ASA. Especially appealing to the library vendors, according to Quantum, is that the SDLT 600 drive is available with Fibre Channel connectivity, which provides greater throughput than SCSI.

In addition, software vendors supporting the SDLT 600 include Arkeia Corp., CommVault Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) (NYSE: CA), Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO), Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO), and Yosemite Technologies Inc.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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