IBM claims to have introduced the world’s highest capacity enterprise tape drive and format with its new 3592. It offers 300GB raw capacity and a 40MB/sec raw transfer rate.

Earlier this year IBM announced a lab version of a terabyte-capacity tape cartridge and the 3592, using Fujitsu NanoCubic ultra-thin coating technology. The 3592 has five times the capacity of IBM’s previous 3590 drive. This earlier 3590 compared poorly to StorageTek’s 200GB capacity 9940B and IBM had some catching up to do. This it has now done.

Compared to the new IBM drive, the capacity-centric 9940B has a third less capacity and a 25 per cent slower transfer rate and costs almost a fifth more. When compared to StorageTek’s faster, access-centric, 9840C the IBM capacity advantage is huge; 300GB compared to an anorexic 40GB, the raw transfer speed advantage the same and the IBM price a claimed 16 per cent lower.

The 3592 can integrate into many existing tape automation systems such as the IBM Enterprise Tape Library 3494 and StorageTek’s 9310 Powderhorn Tape Library. In the enterprise tape generation game we might award game to IBM, but what about the set and match?

IBM says its 3592 is designed to address both capacity and access-oriented applications. It has a high granularity tape marking system, with marks every 4 metres. This, used with what IBM called faster random (file) locates, gives an average file access time of 39 seconds.

StorageTek’s 9840 has two spools, mid-tape parking and an average time to access the first file of 12 seconds. This could nullify IBM’s 25 per cent faster transfer speed. Martin Warren, marketing manager of automated tape solutions for StorageTek, says, ”I’ve got a time to access the first file on the 3592 of 39 seconds. They’re not acknowledging that it’s some three times slower than the 9840.”

On the other hand, Bruce Master, senior programme manager worldwide tape marketing for IBM, points out that, “Thirty nine seconds to search a 300GB space is dynamite! But customers can also scale the 3592 down to a 60GB logical capacity. That cuts down the search space and the average time to a first file access is then just 11 seconds.” So let’s award both the game and set to IBM for now. What about the match?

StorageTek’s third generation 9940, possibly to be called the 9940C, is slated to offer 500GB raw capacity and a massive 100MB/sec raw transfer rate, and to arrive in the first half of next year. It will exceed the 3592 in both capacity and transfer speed. Warren says the 9840 and 9940 drives are designed and built specifically for the enterprise tape market; “The 3592 looks to be a ruggedised adaptation of the LTO drive and is not really built for the enterprise tape drive job.”

Sony has its helical scan Super AIT format, half inch like the linear IBM and StorageTek formats, and used in its Petasite tape libraries. Super AIT 1 offers a raw capacity of 500GB and a raw transfer rate of 30MB/sec. SAIT-2 should arrive next year and will offer a raw capacity of 1TB, yes, one terabyte, and a raw transfer rate of 60MB/sec, comfortably exceeding the 3592 on the most obvious speed and feed metrics, as will StorageTek’s 9940C.

IDC classifies tape drives and format into entry level, mid-range (DLT, LTO, etc.) and enterprise, where it recognises the IBM 3590s and StorageTek’s 9849 and 9940. Mark Lufkin, general manager tape sales and marketing for Sony EMEA, says, “From the customer perspective, quite clearly SAIT is a higher capacity product at a third of the price. It’s taking a piece of clever segmentation to make a claim of higher enterprise capacity. We don’t need to do this. SAIT is the highest capacity tape drive bar none, regardless of market segment.”

IBM intends to introduce Write Once Read Many (WORM) technology to the 3592. Both the StorageTek 9940 and 9840 can use VolSafe tape cartridges, which provide WORM capability. This conforms to SEC rulings on archived data and legally-admissable evidence, also to the equivalent UK and European rulings. Sony too already has WORM with its AIT format and is clearly well-positioned to introduce it to the SAIT format. IBM is behind the curve here.

Game set and match to IBM? Clearly not. IBM has a temporary advantage in one set and one game. But the high end tape generation game is still wide open with three very capable corporations positioned in the match. It will continue for as long as IBM, Sony and StorageTek care to slug it out.