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
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
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.
- 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
- Cartridge price $200 to $250
- Manufacturers Sony and Matsushita
About the author:- Jean-Jacques
Maleval is Editor of
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.
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
"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