Sun has released what it calls the storage industry's first one terabyte tape drive in an effort to satisfy the explosive demand for storage capacity in data centres.

Sun says the StorageTek T10000B tape drive offers the highest per cartridge capacity in the enterprise tape market. Users get 1TB (or 1,024GB) of native storage capacity on a single cartridge, with 120 MB/s throughput.

"We are targeting two areas with this new drive," says Will Trotman, storage marketing manager UK at Sun. "We are definitely targeting the large data centre where they are looking for large capacity storage onto tape. But we are also targeting both the open systems and mainframe space as well."

This is the second generation of the T10000 tape drive. The capacity of the first generation of the drive (T10000A) offered 500GB, but the new T10000B drive exceeds the 1TB mark. Sun claims that its tape drive is the first to break the 1TB storage mark, although IBM is also claiming it has reached the 1TB mark with its recently released TS1130 tape drive.

Sun later said that the T10000B drive would be the first 1TB drive that is actually shipped, as IBM's drive will only ship on 5 September.

Sun meanwhile is also touting the backward compatibility of its drives. "There is lots of data on tapes already," said Trotman. "Therefore, backwards compatibility is important as it ensures that the T10000B drive will read old tapes."

And according to Trotman, the new T10000B drive also enables media reuse. "The user is not constrained by the media," he told Techworld. "Hardware was the constraint."

Trotman says that if a user takes old tapes that used to provide 500GB in the T10000A (first generation), and then reformats them in the T10000B (second generation) drive, they will get 1TB capacity, not just 500GB.

"The T10000B writes a narrower track on the media," said Trotman. "Effectively you get two tracks where you used to get one track." This allows customers who have standardised on the Sun StorageTek T10000 media family, to gain double capacity on existing cartridges.

Pricing for the Sun StorageTek T10000B fibre channel tape drive starts at $37,000 (£18,577) and is expected to be available sometime this month in the United States. In the UK meanwhile, the T10000B is expected to be available at the end of August/early September. UK prices are not available yet for the T10000B, but are expected to be at "a similar price point" to the £18,300 cost of a T10000A.

Storage giant Imation produces the T10000 media, and confirmed that it was supporting the T10000B. Its media utilises Imation's proprietary Tera Angstrom technology, a proprietary coating formulation and process, in addition to its Precision-Tracking 'N Pattern' Servo writing technology.

"The role of tape is changing," said Trotman, dismissing notions that tape is seen as something of a fading technology in the storage industry. "Historically, tape was the backup medium in data centres. Clearly, other technologies have come onto the market, such as disk arrays, virtual tape libraries etc."

"So the technology has moved on, but we believe that tape has move on to a different tier, notably into the archive space, where instant access is not as relevant. Tape is far cheaper," he insists, although Trotman admits the pricing gap has been closing of late.

"That said, tape still offers the best cost per gigabyte. Tape is still being used, but it is being used in a different way."

"The new T10000B is the latest example of our continued investment in tape," he added. "Since we acquired StorageTek, some people thought we wouldn't invest in it." Trotman points out that the T10000B is one of a number of new product announcements in this space since the acquisition.

He says that it is also important for mainframe users to be aware that Sun will continue to support them, despite claims to the contrary that because Sun is an open systems company, it doesn't care about the mainframe environment.