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Sony and MKE Promise Half-Terabyte Drive by End of 2002 StorageNewsletter

Article by Jean-Jacques Maleval Editor of StorageNewsletter

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Editor's intro News items about new products and technologies whizz on and off our main news page within less than a week. This article includes a measured view from Jean-Jacques Maleval who edits a monthly print publication called StorageNewsletter, and also includes a copy of the original news item which we ran on the day of Sony's public announcement about this new technology, in case you missed it.

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We had an early taste of the news (StorageNewsletter April 2001) and were even lucky enough to see this extraordinary machine, Sony's S-AIT, at the last CeBIT. Of course, it was only a non- functional prototype, but the tape routing was operational, and the helical head spun. At the time, Sony's people mentioned some extremely impressive specs: one terabyte native capacity with a 60MB/s transfer rate. Since then, unfortunately, the company has revised its claims, dividing those figures in two. Even 500/30 is nothing to sneeze at, however, and the product is still promised for the end of 2002. Its price should land somewhere around $10,000 for the drive, $200-$250 for the cartridge.

No other tape company has a roadmap that will allow it to attain such specs next year. LTO may hit 200/30, with Quantum's SDLT at 160/16 and Exabyte's M3 at 120/18. All, with the exception of Sony, will fall under the HDD mark, where the highest capacities should easily exceed 300GB by the end of 2002. The only other product that comes close will be Tandberg's O-MaSS, at 600/64, not expected before 4Q03. In terms of technology, Sony uses its AIT helical scan base, adapted not to a small 8mm cartridge with two axes, but to a cartridge with a single axis housing 600m of half-inch tape (compared to 203m and 8mm for AIT-3), in a cartridge similar to LTO. AIT-3 and S-AIT share the same areal density: 720Mb per square inch. Both are equipped with the same R-MIC, a flash memory that keeps tabs on cartridge data and the files written to tape, to accelerate access. Of course, the two products will be incompatible.

The AIT drive conformed to a 3.5-inch form factor, while S-AIT will be housed in an extended 5.25-inch full-height volume, which is 30cm long or a few more centimeters longer than DLT or LTO drives, according to Tadashi Ozue, Sony's chief research scientist. "This is not an issue for library vendors since they have time to design in the drive and have enough space," noted Mark Lufkin, Sony's GM of storage solutions marketing. The device will incorporate an automatic head cleaning system and "an effective leader block tape threading system with a simplified tape load path."

As for the new technology's roadmap, it should roughly adhere to that of AIT. This means an S-AIT 2 will follow, at 1000/40, based on AIT-4 recording technology which is supposed to be 100/24 in 2003. Sony is eager to point out "the potential to scale up to 4TB of uncompressed capacity in a single cartridge" with the use of MR and GMR heads.

We were not the only ones who were impressed by Sony's project. A second manufacturing source agreement has already been concluded. Beginning in 2003, two subsidiaries of the Matsushita group, MKE and MEI, will respectively make the drive and the media, compared to current AIT drives, which are produced solely by Sony. As Lufkin puts it, "We learnt the hard way about the need for multiple sources." Three library manufacturers, Adic, Qualstar and Spectra Logic are the first to express their intention to integrate the S-AIT into their automation products.

This announcement also reignites the old debate between longitudinal (DLT, LTO) and helical scan (AIT, Mammoth) technologies. More importantly, it raises questions about Sony's strategy vis-a-vis computer tape drives. AIT will no doubt maintain its current course, based on its smaller form-factor and its superior access times, even if the size of the cartridge limits capacity. S-AIT, however, will clearly take on the costly DTF, currently at 200/2 4 in its DTF-2 version, and only (!) anticipated at 400/48 in its next generation.

S-AIT main specs

  • Capacity 500GB native, 1.3TB compressed
  • Transfer rate 30MB/s native, 78MB/s compressed
  • Areal density 720Mb per square inch
  • Form factor 5.25-inch full-height (extended)
  • Interface Ultra 160 and FC
  • Media 600m AME, half-inch width, one reel, R-MIC
  • Heads Hypermetal, Super laminated
  • MCBF 50,000 hours
  • Drive's price $10,000
  • Cartridge price $200 to $250
  • Manufacturers Sony and Matsushita
  • Availability end of 2002

About the author:- Jean-Jacques Maleval is Editor of StorageNewsletter
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Sony Debuts S-AIT Technology Platform

SAN FRANCISCO - Nov. 2, 2001 - Sony Corporation today announced the development of the S-AIT format, a new tape-based data storage technology platform that will enable up to 500GB of native capacity to be stored on a single-reel, half-inch tape cartridge by the end of 2002.

The S-AIT drive will leverage Sony's scalable and reliable AIT architecture in a 5.25-inch extended drive form-factor. It is expected to deliver the industry's highest capacity tape drive, storing up to 500GB of uncompressed data on a single tape cartridge and featuring a sustained native transfer rate of up to 30MB per second uncompressed.

Matsushita Kotobuki Electronics Industries, Ltd. (MKE) and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (MEI), known for Panasonic-brand products, will provide the market with alternative manufacturing sources for S-AIT drives and media, respectively.

In addition, leading tape library manufacturers, such as ADIC, Qualstar and Spectra Logic have expressed their intention to support the integration of S-AIT drives and media into half-inch tape automation solutions. Several of these companies are expected to join an S-AIT Alliance under the established AIT Forum to promote the adoption and integration of S-AIT into a wide range of storage solutions.

Based on advanced helical-scan recording technology, which is known for its high data density, outstanding data transfer performance, as well as reliability and durability advantages, the S-AIT technology platform has a forward-looking roadmap with the potential to scale to up to four terabytes of uncompressed capacity in a single cartridge. The first generation S-AIT drives incorporated into automation solutions will provide uncompressed capacities ranging from four terabytes in a 2U rack-mountable configuration to more than 500TB in a 1,000 cartridge freestanding library.

"The explosive growth of digital content together with more data being generated electronically by businesses of all sizes, has led to a tremendous increase in demands for storage. The S-AIT technology is being launched to meet these needs in a very scalable and cost-effective way," said Steve Baker, vice president of marketing for the tape storage solutions division of Sony Electronics' Core Technology Solutions Company. "S-AIT marks a significant paradigm shift for tape storage technology by delivering up to five times the capacity of conventional tape formats in the market today."

Pricing and Availability S-AIT drives are expected to be available late next year at a list price of under $10,000. ...Sony profile

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