StorageTek has entered the FICON (fibre connection) high-end storage market with a new version of its core 9840 tape drive.

The T9840B drive, which is aimed providing fast access to data with high reliability, attaches directly to Storage Area Networks and will be available from next month in the UK and US for $38,000. (£26,000)

Marketing manager Martin Warren told us that the drive has been produced to keep up with market demand - customers have asked for a FICON drive for the past year. It offers what StorageTek claims is the industry's fastest data access with a 12-second average load and search and a 2Gb fibre channel.

It is particularly suited to transactional files and the main customers are expected to be those in the finance market who want the best possible method of storing and accessing vital information. "If you want the ultimate in storage, this is it," Martin Warren told us.

The price tag is the same as other, older-technology drives but the uptake will be gradual, as with FICON technology in general. Most customers will already be running FICON-enabled z-series mainframes from IBM. "Most of our customers have got [the older] ESCON already and will be migrating in the next couple of years," Warren predicted. "The great thing is the T9840B can be used alongside less expensive open devices."

The move from the IBM ESCON standard, first produced in 1990, to the better and faster FICON technology has been a slow-run thing since it first appeared in 1997. IBM only added FICON to a main storage server in 2001, and 2002 saw analysts recommending a move to the new technology.

However, although FICON can send data six times as fast over fewer channels (meaning far fewer cables) and has the advantage that it can work at a distance of 100km (whereas ESCON only manages 30km) businesses have been slow to invest in the new technology.

ESCON and FICON are not compatible, so the use of FICON technology requires the purchase of new equipment right along the line. Both types can be run on the system at the same time but adapters are needed and while companies' existing ESCON products can still do the job, they have been unwilling to buy into a new standard.

With FICON written into new servers however, companies are gradually moving to FICON equipment to take advantage of the latest technology, putting mission-critical information on them and leaving the rest on existing ESCON.

Since new FICON and new ESCON equipment cost the same, and FICON works out cheaper once installed, the move will be gradual but inevitable. StorageTek hopes that its new tape drive will ride that wave.