Super Drives, Automation Lead Growth In The Tape Storage Market
Although sales of compact tape drives continue to be sluggish, there is a bright spot for VARs in super tape drives and tape automation solutions.
Where can VARs expect to see growth in the tape storage market? Four tape and tape automation executives we spoke to believe opportunities lie in the super tape drive market. The numbers seem to prove them right. In the "2003 Compact Tape Outlook" recently published by Freeman Reports, overall sales in the compact tape market were down, but sales of super tape drives continued to increase.
The super tape drive class is often defined by drives that are 100 GB and up. That category includes linear tape-open (LTO), superDLT (SDLT [digital linear tape]), and super advanced intelligent tape (SAIT). "The trend in the tape business continues to be to increase capacity and performance as quickly as possible," says John Woelbern, director of OEM tape marketing for Sony Electronics (San Jose, CA). "This is necessary for tape drives to maintain their economic position in the storage hierarchy. Many backup applications are now going to disk arrays. For tape to remain viable, it needs to maintain a price/efficiency gap relative to the hard drive trends."
The tape drive manufacturers are now on a road map that is aiming for 1 TB per cartridge by 2006 and 10 TB per cartridge by 2011. Woelbern believes those road map goals will be necessary to maintain the economic advantage tape has over hard drives. Hard drives continue to increase in speed and are still doubling capacity about every 18 months.
Woelbern believes new features will also allow tape to remain competitive. The WORM (write-once, read-many) capability of many tape drives provides a benefit that disk drives cannot. This feature is especially important for many types of record keeping, archiving, and retention where the data cannot be altered. "A lot of this is being driven by the government, particularly the SEC [Securities & Exchange Commission]," he says. "Regulations in banking and finance, as well as healthcare, are also driving that trend."
Automation Will Drive Customer Interest In Super Tape Drives
Automation is playing a big role in the super tape drive market. In terms of automation, Steve Berens, senior director of product marketing and strategy for Quantum (San Jose, CA), believes super tape drives need to have the right form factor, the right value proposition, and the right mix of speed and capacity. "We believe those three factors have really driven customer buying behavior the last few years," he says. "Every indication is that those factors will continue to push that behavior the next few years as well."
Any tape drive company can sell a solution to smaller companies, but for many the real action lies in automation. The automation opportunities, however, are limited and depend on the size of the solution. This makes OEM relationships critical for tape drive companies. "In the automation space, as cartridge count increases, the market size gets smaller," states Berens. "When going from a sub-20 cartridge solution to a sub-100 cartridge solution, the market is cut in half. It is halved again in going to sub-500 and sub-1000 cartridge solutions. This makes it critical for drive companies to deliver the features customers want at a price that is affordable."
Bob Covey, VP of marketing for tape automation manufacturer Qualstar (Simi Valley, CA), notes his company is shipping super tape drive libraries all over the world. "Capacities are significantly higher on these drives than we have seen on previous generations," he says. "Customers have more and more data to store, and they need to do it cost effectively. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that as data continues to grow, that growth is only supportable on tape. The cost of storing data on tape is 1/10 the cost to store it on disk. Super tape drives currently on the market will move that ratio even more in favor of tape."
Like Woelbern, Covey is also seeing a great deal of interest in the WORM technology. "This is a replacement technology that is suddenly getting a lot of attention," he says. "WORM is a replacement for optical disc technology, but it also plays perfectly into the regulatory storage requirements we are now seeing. With WORM, customers are able to affordably store the mountains of data the regulators want them to store. Storing that data is too expensive for customers to do any other way. We will be seeing a lot of new software packages to support the WORM functionality as well."
Will Disk-Based Backup Be A Threat To Tape?
Over the last 12 months, Overland Storage (San Diego) has done a lot of market research trying to identify trends in the storage market. "We found that a lot of customers are migrating to disk-based backup environments," says Christie Huff, director of channel and partner marketing for Overland. "In fact, our decision to acquire Okapi [Poway, CA] was in part based on that research. We believe companies will continue to migrate their backup strategies to disk. The plan will be to back up to disk and then archive to tape."
Rather than looking at this trend as a threat, Overland looked at it as an opportunity. "Even customers that back up to disk will need to have tape on the back end," says Huff. "Speed in the backup and restore functions is becoming more prominent, but customers will still need to have that archive capability. While high-speed and instant restore capabilities are nice, customers need the security of knowing a backup copy of their data exists off-site in a safe place."
For years, some in the industry have been calling for the end of tape. Huff believes nothing could be further from the truth. "None of the IT professionals who we talk to believe tape will go away," she says. "They need that feeling of security, and they recognize there are advantages to having data stored on tape. The media tends to last longer and have a longer shelf life than disk. It also gives users the ability to conveniently store the data off-site."