Sony's Mark Lufkin has already told us about turbo-charging AIT drives and his aim of doubling, even tripling AIT take-up. That's in the low-end (DDS/DAT-72) tape market. The company is ambitious in the supertape market too. Its Super AIT, or S-AIT, format competes with the market leaders here: LTO and and Quantum's SDLT, now termed DLTS, format. What is Sony about here?
We should say that Sony's AIT-4, with its 200GB native capacity and 24MB/sec bandwidth is similar to LTO-2 (200MB also, and with a 30MB/sec bandwidth). However LTO, like DLTS and SAIT, is a half inch format whereas AIT is 8mm. So, for the purposes of this discussion we'll consider it no further. SAIT comes in a 4-generation roadmap with SAIT-1 current at 500GB raw capacity and a 30MB/sec transfer rate. S-AITs 2, 3 and 4 are expected to offer 1, 2 and 4TB capacity respectively and I/O rates of 60, 120 and 240MB/sec.
We might hope to see SAIT-2 early next year and the third and fourth generations at 18-24 month intervals after that.
Lufkin, a Sony Europe general manager, has a straightforward aim with S-AIT; "We want to establish S-AIT in the mid-range market versus LTO and Quantum. We'll launch SAIT-2 next year as planned." He noted that LTO sales really took off after LTO-2 was announced. It was as if customers saw that the roadmap was real and that the LTO consortium members really were committed to the format.
His goal, "is to get S-AIT volumes up. The units are going up very quickly at the moment." The price of drives has come down quite a lot. They were around 10,000 euros at S-AIT-1s launch; "The street price now is about 5,000 euros."
It does not faze Lufkin that LTO-3 (400 MB raw capacity) has arrived; "The LTO-3 launch is a benefit to Sony. The 500GB per tape catridge concept has been validated by LTO. So it increases interest in very high capacity tapes."
He says, "The goal in 2005 is to make S-AIT into having a significant market share, say about ten percent, in the superdrive market versus LTO and DLTS. Currently it's about two to three percent." Once again we see a doubling, even tripling, of unit volume is what he has in mind.
One way of doing that is this: "An S-AIT library is to be launched next year, the beginning. It will complement the PetaSite libraries but it will be a volume product. The aim is to overtake Quantum by the end of next year. The library will be a rackmount product." There will be a desktop version, posibly starting with 20 slots.
He thinks the library market is growing. Also small autoloaders now provide the same capacity as previous mid-range libraries. He sees erosion of mid-range libraries taking place, "with growth coming from small and medium enterprises. They don't need big libraries as large enterprises do."
How does he compare the AIT and S-AIT businesses?
"I want S-AIT to be an equivalent-sized business as AIT is now."
S-AIT already has a significant capacity advantage over LTO and Quantum. Its helical scan recording technology can cram more data onto a section of half inch media than either of those two formats.
Lufkin doesn't see much real demand for disk buffers in libraries yet; "We're looking at it but we can'ty justify it on the market figures. We have no focus on it yet." We shouldn't expect anything for at least 12 months. "It's possibly viable in 18-24 months."
Technically there's no real difficulty here, as other library vendors have shown. Possibly Sony's development team, based as they are in Japan, and thinking of likely sales of a disk-enabled S-AIT library within Sony's base, just don't see the likely sales justifying the development costs yet.
We haven't said anything about the autoloader market where Sony also has high ambition. Lufkin seems to be saying that, essentially, he has thee business to look after: AIT; auto-loaders; and S-AIT. The early launch of SAIT-2 as a format and S-AIT libraries, with SME market models, will increase the choice for customers.