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Oh Sony. Have we learned NOTHING from SuperAIT?

I don't care how brilliant it is, proprietary tape is OVER

Blocks and Files It's deja freakin' vu all over again, as the grim spectres of AIT and Super AIT tape are coming alive again. Meanwhile the good ship Sony is sinking in the west, the crew distracted by a tape technology sideshow.

Consider these two recent stories:

  • Sony reckons it will make a $1.3bn loss after selling off its failing PC business, and may contract its Blu-ray manufacturing as optical disk sales collapse, as well as sell the Bravia TV line.
  • Sony techs devise a new tape manufacturing format that could produce a 185TB tape cartridge (uncompressed data).

Really? At this time in its corporate existence? The AIT and SuperAIT tape formats failed because the LTO format, supported by IBM, HP and Quantum, wiped out all other proprietary tape formats except the mainframe-class ones from IBM and Oracle/StorageTek.

So now, in a fine example of a lemming returning to the clifftop to jump off again, Sony is devising a new proprietary tape format.

In late 2012, we learnt IBM was developing a 125TB tape, with Fujifilm making the media. The current LTO-6 tape format holds 6.25TB of compressed data, 2.5TB raw, and there are LTO-7 and LTO-8 whisperings in the breeze. So, applying the usual capacity-doubling rule of thumb, we are looking at 5TB and 10TB raw capacities.

Sony's marketing strategists, if it has such people, surely understand that LTO is the doorway through which any new tape format has to pass to get to the bulk of the market. There are two subsidiary portals labelled IBM and Oracle. Does Sony, $1.3bn loss-making Sony, think it has a chance of making its own route to tape drive/library-buying customers with a proprietary format? A format with no backwards-compatibility whatsoever?

Surely someone at the firm must be thinking: "Hang on. Wasn't it a disaster last time? What's different now?"

There are only two practical ways Sony could get its new developing tape format productised. One is to work with Fujifilm and get IBM and/or Oracle to adopt it. The other is to go to the LTO Consortium and pursue adoption there, but it better provide backwards compatibility to whatever LTO formats exist when its new tape format gets productised, if it ever does.

For Sony is a failing, flailing sinking ship with its various consumer electronics franchises falling apart under the assault of Apple, Samsung and others. If reports are true that it's investing $642m in Olympus to develop medical equipment then Sony should concentrate on that and forget tape.

Developing a new proprietary tape format these days will be a heroic enterprise. Inevitably it will fail unless partnership, with replacement of one or more of the existing IBM, LTO and Oracle formats provides an effective route to market. Sony's ability to partner - think Betamax - is so bad it's legendary, with NIH virtually a requirement of entry into its marketing strategy unit.

The idea of Sony developing a new tape format on its own is bizarrely daft. ®

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