Sony bulks up tape storage capacity

As the volume of data increases with the rollout of broadband services, Sony Corp. plans to keep extending the capabilities of its line of tape drives with greater capacities and faster transfer speeds, the company announced on Monday at the Storage Networking World 2001 Fall exhibition here.

Despite the falling prices of hard disk drives, tape storage is still a common choice for low-cost data backup. Tape drive technology is also moving forward to meet the need to store larger volumes of data that can be accessed at faster speeds.

Demand for tape drives with a capacity of 20G bytes or below is expected to shrink dramatically as drives with a capacity of 400G bytes or more are expected to increasingly become a mainstream choice for back-up storage systems, said Masashi Takao, a director at Sony's Tape Streamer Business Division.

To meet this expected shift in demand, Sony is working on development of its AIT (advanced intelligent tape) format, which last month reached its third generation. Sony has doubled AIT's capacity and transfer speed with each new generation, Takao said.

AIT3, which is priced around 17,000 yen to 20,000 yen (US$137 to $161) per tape, offers a capacity of 100G bytes per tape and a data transfer speed of 12M bps (bits per second). The company plans to keep doubling AIT's capacity and transfer speed until AIT6, which is expected to hold 800G bytes per tape with a data transfer speed of 96M bps by 2007, Takao said.

Development of AIT6 is expected to be made possible as a result of a breakthrough Sony's research labs announced in January. Sony succeeded in recording data at a density of 6.5G bytes per square inch, which would allow an eight-millimeter AIT-sized tape to have a capacity of 1T byte, Takao said. In a bid to compete with tapes from vendors that use the rival DLT (digital linear tape) standard, Sony recently announced a licensing alliance with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. to develop the Super AIT format.

By changing the size of the tape's cartridge to match competing standards such as DLT, Super DLT and LTO (linear tape open), which are larger than AIT, Super AIT tapes can hold five times more data than AIT tapes, said Yuji Takahashi, a spokesman for Sony.

The first generation of Super AIT will offer a capacity of 500G bytes per tape with a data transfer rate of 30M bps and is expected to be available in November 2002. The company plans to continue developing subsequent generations of Super AIT and expects to offer tapes with a capacity of 4T bytes by 2008, Takahashi said. By comparison, Super DLT tapes launched earlier this year have a 110G-byte capacity.

Other companies, which plan to roll out Super AIT products include Advanced Digital Information Corp., Spectra Logic Corp and Qualstar Corp., Sony said.

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