Barry Edmonds is the managing director of Imation, which has recently bought 5 per cent of Exabyte and announced it is developing StorageTek’s next generation drive media. Imation has an EMEA-wide deal with HP for its electronic media but is not making DAT-72, HP and Certance’s candidate in the DDS tape replacement market. We asked Barry Edmonds why not; it is designed to be a DDS-5 tape, a direct follow-on from the current DDS-4;

“They’re not allowed to use the DDS5 name and that immediately impacts resellers. I think that it’s more significant to the future of technology than any of us realise today. It opens the door to other technology.” Sony, owner of the DDS moniker, has not allowed the term DDS-5 to be used. The view is that customers won’t be exposed to the DAT-72 products because resellers won’t belive in it. For them a DDS-4 migration product has to be called DDS-5 to work.

Techworld has run several ‘disk will replace entry-level tape' articles recently. What did Edmonds think of that idea?

“The death of tape? I keep hearing of it. But the price/performance ratio of tape is significantly lower than D2D (disk-to-disk) backup. Our belief is that for SOHO (small office/home office) users, we see them moving very much to DVD. It holds 4.7GB and the drive costs are decreasing. They’ll use DVD for their home and personal stuff too. We’re seeing it ourselves now. Our entry-level tape business is declining at a significant rate. The growth of DVD is awesome. BlueRay will be one of the technologies with a minimum of 23GB. Why would you buy an entry-level tape? I think tape will eventually die at the entry level. It will go DVD, it’s much more versatile than hard drives.”

Edmonds is impressed by HP’s optical storage activities; “HP is the biggest supplier of DVD drives in the world. It will be first to market with 8X; we’re at 4 speed at the moment. HP is the market leader at increasing recording speed.” This is an HP love-in. Imation supplies DVDs. It does not supply hard drives. Clearly Imation will profit strongly with HP growth in the DVD market.

Imation is well known for its floppy disk, tape and CD/DVD media supply activities. Edmonds says Imation sees itself as a removable media supplier and that definition includes flash memory, about the prospects of which he is positive; “Flash memory is the biggest growth opportunity in removable media today. It fits very well with our core thing, which is removable media.”

How will Imation enter this market? It may well start off, “with a sales and marketing operation and then move to manufacturing.“ We can expect to see Imation-branded flash memory in those key fob-sized units that are becoming so common. Later on, Edmonds said, "Partnerships are possible – witness Exabyte. You can expect to see more investments following on from Exabyte.”

Imation is also developing tape for StorageTek’s next generation drive and, “We’re working with IBM to qualify 3592 tape. We just invested $49 million in a tape coater in our US plant.” (The 3592 has 300GB raw capacity.) We might expect Imation-branded 3592 tape in the second quarter of 2004. This level of tape technology could also be used in Exabyte VXA tape which currently run through four generations to VXA-4 offering 320GB in 2006. This roadmap existed before the Exabye investment so we might anticipate VXA-5 and 6 generations taking us to 640FB and 1200GB. The terabyte tape target beckons and Edmonds said; “We will reach a 1TB capacity tape in a number of ways,” and mentioned the relationships with IBM and Tandberg. The Exabyte investment was very important to Exabyte in Edmonds’ view; “We’ve given Exabyte a kiss of life,” and funded its research efforts.

Edmonds is not impressed by LTO tape’s enterprise credentials; “A number of organisations have adopted LTO technology for enterprise applications and been surprised that it’s failed. We think LTO technology is a long way from the robustness needed for enterprise applications.”

So Imation’s take on the storage market is that VXA, DVD and flash memory are on a roll whereas LTO’s enterpise credentials are stalled and entry-level tape is destined for death.