Iomega has confirmed that its Rev drive and disks are on track for an end-of-March launch. The company says that customers should backup data to Rev cartridges, just as they backup to tape cartridges. The device is a removable disk and separate drive. With 40GB removable hard drives costing under £200 will customers think of Rev as another removable disk?

Rev drives cost 399 euros, £270, and 35GB Rev catridges 60 euros, £40, that's £310 for a drive and one disk. Since you can get an Amacom I/O disk with 40GB capacity for under £200 that doesn't look like a particularly good deal.

New paradigm, new problems
A Rev cartridge looks like a smaller, thicker version of the Zip cartridge. How should customers view this new device: as a Zip disk re-incarnation or a tape alternative?

Iomega says that the Rev device isn't seen as a hard disk backup-style unit in the same way as a Maxtor One Touch. These, Iomega's Rev product manager, Peter Wharton, said, hold all of a user's data. The Rev should be seen in tape backup terms where data is spread across multiple cartridges, rather than on an all-or-nothing hard drive. Lose it and you lose all your backed-up data.

So Rev, with its 35GB capacity should be compared to Tandberg's SLR60 (30GB capacity), VXA1 (33GB capacity), VS80 (40GB capacity), AIT-1 (35GB capacity) and DAT-72 at 36GB. An AIT-1 drive can cost £600 or more. An HP DAT-72 drive is £700 or so. These make the Rev drive look exceedingly good value at its £270 level. You can afford dozens of cartridges before you approach the cost of a tape drive.

Potential customers will be told that Rev disks have a projected shelf life of 30 years and that there is lots of sealing technology to keep disks clean and contaminants out of the drive.

Pricing and longevity say this is a tape drive alternative for business to consider. Iomega is partnering with BDT, builder of something like three quarters of the tape autoloaders sold today, to have an autoloader developed.

Enterprise use
Here the business/enterprise use of Rev become's less clear. A 10-slot autoloader was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show. That's a 350GB native capacity - all quoted capacities are native - and it could be stacked in a rack of three units providing over 1TB capacity.

Such an autoloader would be much faster than tape ones, provide much faster restoration of files and be cheaper, extrapolating current pricing, too. As a branch office or smaller department backup device it would be appealing.

Also it's hard to think of consumers needing a 1TB capacity autoloader. So it must be business that Iomega/BDT has in mind. Yet there are no public OEM commitments to ship such a Rev autoloader. BDT builds autoloaders for HP, Quantum, ADIC, Exabyte, Dell, Sun and Tandberg. Not one has said it will brand and sell a Rev autoloader.

There is no autoloader software being mentioned, no mention of bar-code readers to make handling the upwards of thirty tapes in the unit esier to handle. There is no clear statement saying that existing backup software can be used. Wharton says that Dantz and Legato backup software will work and that Iomega is talking to Veritas and CA.

Customers will buy autoloaders from suppliers with a track record that they trust. Iomega doesn't have any of these signed up yet.

The various tape formats mentioned above all have roadmaps for future generations and existing higher capacity versions of their entry-level tapes. Businesses worried about future growth and backwards compatibility get a good story from all of them. Wharton says that any future version of Rev would be backwards-compatible with the initial version.

At the same time Iomega's European head, Ulrika Tegtmeier, says that a great many businesses don't do backup at all. Perhaps positioning Rev as a tape replacement isn't what we should be assuming. It's a tape-style device for people who aren't using tape but could be.

The great unwashed
If Rev is pitched as a backup medium for businesses that don't currently backup their data then its sales may be limited. Such customers have got to believe that backup is necessary but that their data isn't important enough to be worth backing up to tape because tape is too inconvenient/expensive/difficult/take your pick.

Tegtmeier thinks that such busines people will learn to value backup once they risk losing all their hard drive-stored digital images and MP3 files. That's hardly the stuff of a rapid sales ramp.

There are vertical markets, such as pre-press, where Iomega Jazz drives have a good track record, Perhaps Rev can be viewed as a re-incarnation of the Zip/Jazz disk idea. Also, a Rev autoloader would be comparable to any other hard drive autoloader, emphasing the 'diskness' of Rev.

Rev will be announced at the end of March with first customer ships then or in the first part of April. It will be no surprise if the autoloader aspect to Rev is not announced at that point. Equally, although business use of Rev is sure to be mentioned, it's probable that Iomega will primarily address users with high multi-media storage requirements rather than notebook computer road warriors and the smaller enterprise departments and branch offices.