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Sony's Super AIT - a fall from grace

Reorg slices through tape format's future

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Betamax and VHS wars all over again

Nick Smith, a Sony marketing manager, said it was like Betamax and VHS all over again, and the best product lost - again. SAIT2 was launched in 2005 with 800GB capacity but SAIT3, the next step in the SAIT road, never came. LTO-4 came along with its matching 800GB in 2007 and the LTO roadmap had generations 5 and 6 pegged in, whereas the SAIT roadmap had effectively halted. That was the beginning of the end.

Smith says Sony privately conceded the point and has begun supporting LTO in its customer base: "As of the last 18 months we've supported both LTO and SAIT in our archive products and people can migrate from SAIT to LTO."

The effective ending of the SAIT roadmap and the positioning of SAIT-2 as the last SAIT generation doesn't mean Sony is not supporting SAIT. Customers are still being supported and can expect to have that support continue. But they should realise that SAIT has entered the start of its end-of-life phase and plan for a future in which higher capacity tape cartridges will only come from LTO-5.

Nick Smith said more about continuing SAIT2 support: "Our policy is that we will support SAIT2 drives and systems up to seven years after [the] end of life date. For SAIT2 this has not been set - in fact we already know that we will be offering SAIT2 solutions throughout 2009, so customers are safe until 2016."

The current examination of the Sony Electronics business unit has not begun with advance notice of product stoppages. David Bush, Sony's EMEA marketing director for its Professional business unit, said: "We have no information about any changes to product plans. It's business as usual... All businesses are being vigorously looked at. We're at the start of a process and I don't know, frankly, what the outcome will be."

Inside Sony Electronics the Sony Professional business unit is actually having a quite good year. Bush said: "It's performing strongly and growing year-on-year. I'm not expecting any major changes in any of our business domains."

Hard times make for hard choices, and in many markets a volume leader product wins out over other products that may have technical advantages. Sony has been hit twice with this hammer: Betamax losing out to VHS video tape, and now AIT/SAIT giving way to DAT and LTO magnetic tape.

Blu-ray is another story, with the only competitor - Toshiba's HD-DVD - trounced, and Plasmon's UDO looking very sick indeed. Blu-ray got the volume via PlayStation sales and that proved key. That optical format is Sony's Blu-ray of hope in the data storage business. ®

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