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LTO-5 tape comes from Quantum and Overland

Dead-ended road-map

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Both Quantum and Overland have announced LTO5 tape products, but the LTO consortium still has nowhere for tape users to go after LTO-6.

Linear Tape Open (LTO) 5 is the fifth LTO format and specifies cartridges holding 1.5TB of raw data with a 140MB/sec transfer rate. SpectraLogic was first to announce systems, in September last year but customers would actually get LTO-4 systems and a free upgrade when actual LTO-5 product was ready.

Overland Storage announced its NEO E LTO-5 tape automation product late in February. Now Quantum has followed suit, claiming it has "availability of the industry’s first tape products based on the generation 5 specifications" -meaning LTO-5 tape autoloaders, drives and media and limited availability of LTO-5 technology in its Scalar tape libraries as part of an early customer adoption program.

All three companies say LTO-5 product is needed according to Janae Lee, Quantum's SVP for marketing, because of "tremendous growth in unstructured data, rich file formats from new digital technologies and requirements to hold on to that content for longer periods". This is not going to stop, yet the LTO roadmap stops with the next LTO-6 generation, offering 3.2TB capacity and 270MB/sec transfer speed. After that there is a dead end.

There is a roadmap link on the LTO Ultrium web site but it takes you into a Page Not Found error - says it all really.

The members of the LTO consortium are HP, IBM and Quantum. Interestingly IBM and Fujitsu have devised technology they say could lead to a 35TB capacity tape. That indicates that the LTO consortium could go well beyond LTO-6 to generations 7, 8 and beyond, each one doubling the previous generation's capacity.

There is now no effective competition to the LTO formats in the general open systems server area, with Sony's AIT and Super AIT hors de combat and Quantum retiring its DLT formats in favour of LTO. This lack of competition could incline the LTO consortium to being slower than otherwise in deciding what to advise users to do once their LTO-6 tape drives don't have the capacity and speed needed to back up that "tremendous growth in unstructured data".

The lack of a roadmap might incline customers to look more favourably upon disk-to-disk (D2D) backup, especially deduplicating disk-to-disk backup. We can expect D2D arrays to be employing 4TB drives, possibly even 8TB ones, when LTO-6 tape drives appear in roughly three years time. Unless the LTO Consortium gets its ass in gear and presses its tape pedal to the metal, it could find that its lack of urgency will help bring about its own demise.

Perry Grover, product marketing director of Overland's tape storage division, said she could only speak as a customer of the LTO consortium, HP supplying the LTO drives Overland uses. She referenced the 35TB IBM and Fujitsu tape project and said: "I think investment in tape technology is continuing. I do believe the LTO Consortium is working on a roadmap post-LTO-6, and would expect to see that in the next few months."

An HP spokesperson said: "In response to extensive end user research, along with licensee and industry analyst input, the LTO Program has incrementally increased the data rate specification for generation 5, and plan to provide roadmap updates to LTO Ultrium generation 6 and beyond to give users improved tape performance attributes."

Overland's NEO LTO-5 products are available now with a starting MSRP of £6,000. Quantum didn't reveal any pricing information. ®

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