HP will release the industry's first DAT tape drives for servers using USB 2.0, next month.

Aimed at small to mid-size businesses (SMBs), the move is part of an ongoing HP strategy to make data back-up easier.

The HP StorageWorks DAT 72 and DAT 40 USB tape drives (storing, yes, 72GB and 40GB respectively), will appear on 11 July. Each drive will offer a data transfer rate of 23GB per hour, assuming a 2:1 data compression. The 72GB drive will cost $749; the 40GB drive, $599.

Having a USB 2.0 interface for digital audio tape (DAT) drives is something users have been pushing for, according to Troy Davis, product marketing manager, HP StorageWorks tape drives. "Parallel SCSI reaching the end of its life is driving more use of other interfaces," he said. When polled on which interface they'd most like to see in HP tape drives, customers and partners voted strongly for USB 2.0, ahead of Apple's FireWire, serial SCSI, and serial advanced technology attachment (ATA), Davis said.

Even though it's been around for 16 years, the DAT format remains very popular among the SMB community, so vendors like HP are continuing to pump investment dollars into the technology, according to Bob Abraham, president of tape industry analyst Freeman Reports. "We can't say that the future's bright for tape, but it's certainly good," he said.

The USB 2.0 interface should simplify setting up a tape drive, with HP suggesting a user could get the device up and running out of the box in 60 seconds. The company also estimates that using a USB 2.0 interface is substantially cheaper than going the SCSI route. With a SCSI-enabled drive, customers need to buy additional hardware such as a host bus and cables to the tune of an extra $150 to $400, HP's Davis claimed. "That price range may be a bit on the high side, but there is a significant cost increment in going to SCSI, analyst Abraham agreed.

For the vast majority of SMBs, those employing between 10 to 100 staff, USB 2.0 will provide a fast enough interface for companies to back up most of their applications, Abraham said. However, "Much larger SMBs do need to go to SCSI for performance [purposes]," he added.

While aimed squarely at customers running servers, HP is hoping that the DAT USB 2.0 price-point might also be attractive enough to interest some workstation users. "We're dipping our toes into the workstation market to see how we'll do there," HP's Davis said.

Making such a move wouldn't be a stretch for HP, Abraham suggested, but he pointed out that historically the highly price sensitive workstation market has shown very little interest in tape drives. "They by and large don't want to be bothered with tape, and use disk, DVDs or CDs," he said.

HP continues to have internal discussions about tape drives aimed at consumers using laptops and PCs, but the company has no plans as yet to enter that market, according to Davis.