Three years into his job as boss of Quantum, Rick Belluzzo now has another big challenge ahead - hanging onto the DLT customer base, while at the same time acknowledging that LTO has come out on top, and aggressively chasing the LTO market.
So as Quantum previewed its next generation SuperDLT technology, called DLT-S4, at CeBIT, it had lots more to show as well. Alongside the prototype drive, which will store 800GB of uncompressed data per cartridge (compared to 300GB for the current DLT-S3 drives), was a whole range of LTO, DDS-DAT and Travan tape drives, all bearing the Quantum logo, and all the fruit of Quantum's recent purchase of Certance.
Belluzzo says that the DLT technology roadmap will not change, but adds: "Frankly, for DLT it's the installed base. We expect growth in both areas but in the short term it's mostly in LTO, where Certance didn't have a big share."
He aims to put a positive spin on having two superdrive formats, arguing that since the decision to accelerate DLT capacity growth at the expense of transfer speed, they target different markets - DLT for those who want a tape archive behind a disk backup box, and LTO for those who backup direct to tape so need high data transfer rates.
"Customers who are more aggressive at adopting disk backup are also more aggressive about tape for archiving," he says. "People who used disk had solved their performance issues. As disk becomes more prevalent I don't know how much people care what's behind it."
Formerly the tape arm of Seagate, Certance had been strong on technology but very much the third of three when it came to sales. Now though, with the weight of Quantum behind it, that could change - if Quantum, having only just finished digesting Benchmark, proves adaptable enough to move away from its legacy.
"The rationale for the Certance deal was two things: one was more volume and a focus on operational efficiency, and number two was a broader portfolio of products. If we do those two we will make it work," Belluzzo says. "Beyond that, we need to see what we can get out of consolidation."
Consolidation is also still on the menu for the tape industry as a whole, he says, especially as disk-to-disk backup cuts in, and as tape automation reduces the number of drives needed.
"In tape, of the people left we are the only real independent," he says. [Exabyte might argue with that - Ed.] "Then you have HP, IBM, Sony - large companies who're continuing to invest. I can't imagine that'll go on for ever though - if you think about it, just about every system component has been outsourced, except tape drives.
"We want to be the consolidator of tape - the last man standing. But we also need to grow outside tape - in disk, software and service. Those are still very young areas.
"I think horizontal [software] services are the job of others. In the short term we'll add software capabilities into our products and devices, such as DLTice, but as a layer below the full management solution. We will make the most out of tape, make it the best it can be, and over time invest in other things."
Those other things of course include tape libraries and the DX series of disk-to-disk backup devices. Quantum has just added hardware data compression to the DX, in effect doubling its capacity, and Belluzzo says it is adding partitioning software too, so a single DX will be able to backup several different hosts.
"I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that product innovation does matter," he says, adding though that he is also aware of the storage industry's tendency to run ahead of its customers, and wants Quantum to adapt accordingly: "We hear people saying 'We don't want new generations every 15 to 18 months - it's too much work.' My view is we will have new platforms less frequently, but do more incremental improvements during a product's lifetime."
And how much longer can tape survive, now that video and audio have both abandoned it for other media. Belluzzo says there is plenty of life left in it, as long as it stays profitable.
"In 2002 when I joined, we really started to change the company. There were a lot of downward pressures and a lot of acquisitions to piece together," he says. "The other challenge was that the price of media dropped sharply - the Japanese companies had over-capacity because data is the only use for tape now. That's stabilised, and we're now in the execution phase - we lost $15 million the quarter I joined, we made $10 million last quarter.
"There will always be a removable medium. We will see different technologies provide choice over the next few years, but it has to be low cost and durable. Now, with LTO, we are more aligned with the other players."