LTO 3 Tape Makes Its Way to Market
December 7, 2004 Alex Woodie
The third generation of Linear Tape-Open products is finally here, just in time for the IT holiday shopping season. With double the performance of the previous LTO Ultrium 2 spec, tape drives built on LTO Ultrium 3 technology offer 80-MB-per-second native transfer speeds, while LTO 3 cartridges can hold 400 GB native. The three LTO 3 drive manufacturers–Certance (formerly Seagate), Hewlett-Packard, and IBM–are either shipping LTO 3 drives now or will be shortly.
The LTO Ultrium 3 spec is one of the so-called “super” half-inch tape drive technologies, and it is in the same general class as Sony‘s Super Advanced Intelligent Tape (SAIT), which offers 30-MB-per-second native data transfer speeds and 500 GB native capacity, and Quantum‘s Super Digital Linear Tape (SDLT), which offers 36-MB-per-second native data transfer speeds and a 300 GB native capacity. These are all quality drives, with solid vendors behind them, as well as at least one more generation left in their respective product roadmaps.
While each super tape drive technology offers its own advantages and disadvantages (such as the helical scan technology in the SAIT drives that lessens wear on tape), the big difference between the LTO line and the SAIT and SDLT lines is vendor lock-in. Other tape and media manufacturers can license the LTO 3 technology from the LTO Program organization, which is controlled by IBM, HP, and Certance. This is the main reason why the LTO specification was created in the first place, and it has helped to keep prices–particularly media prices–down.
LTO 3 raises the performance bar for high-speed data transfers. With 2:1 data compression enabled, LTO 3 drives should be able to push data at up to 160 MB per second, or 576 GB per hour. Running at full speed (which only happens in laboratory conditions), it would take about 83 minutes to reach the full 800 GB (compressed) capacity of a standard 400 GB LTO 3 cartridge. LTO 3 tape drives are also backward-compatible, but only somewhat. LTO 3 drives support the capability to read all three generations of LTO tapes, but they can only write to LTO 2 and LTO 3 tapes.
There is a wide selection of tape cartridge vendors that have satisfied verification compliance testing for the LTO 3 cartridge, including Fujifilm, Imation, Maxell, Sony Electronics, and TDK Electronics. Additionally, the LTO Program announced in October that LTO 3 will support the write once, read many (WORM) data storage process that many new federal regulations are requiring of American companies.
On December 17, IBM will begin shipping the new TotalStorage 3580 Model L33 tape drive, its first LTO 3 offering, which is sure to be followed by bigger multi-drive LTO 3 autoloaders and libraries. The 3580 Model L33 features a SCSI Ultra160 LVD interface for connecting to a variety of servers, including OS/400, Unix, Windows, Linux, and mainframe servers. The option for HP-UX connectivity won’t be available until 2005. There is no word on when we’ll see HVD SCSI and Fibre Channel connectivity.
Some of the improvements IBM has made with this single-drive unit include a new dual-stage, 16-channel head actuator, a new independent tape loader and threader motors, and 128 MB of buffer, with twice the amount of buffer IBM offered in the LTO 2 versions of the 3580 tape drive. It also has added a feature called “graceful dynamic braking,” designed to maintain tension to help prevent stretching or breaking the tape and loose tape wraps.
Pricing for the TotalStorage 3580 Model L33 is expected to be about $6,500. IBM is still selling LTO 1 and LTO 2 versions of the 3580 drive, which are available for about $5,200 each with LVD SCSI connections.
IBM will also begin selling two OEM versions of the L33, the IBM TotalStorage T800 and T800F, to third-party storage providers, which will be able to add their own electronics and set their own prices. This is how companies like GST, eStorage, and StorageTek obtain LTO technologies, although these companies sometimes source their drives from the other two LTO vendors.
Acquired two months ago by San Diego-based SAN array maker Zzyzx Peripherals, eStorage expects to offer its OS/400-compatible LTO 3 drive in January, which will be followed with LTO 3 autoloaders and libraries, with integrated mirroring, offline copying, and cascading capabilities. The company will sell LTO 3 alongside AIT and SAIT, which many customers seem to prefer because of their reliability, says Jon Asahina, eStorage’s chief technology officer. But there’s a place for LTO 3. “We think that, because of its large capacity, the LTO 3 will be an ideal back-end to our new virtual tape libraries,” he says.
Certance, which is being acquired by DLT-maker Quantum, was the first of the LTO consortium to ship an LTO Ultrium 3 tape drive, this fall. The Costa Mesa, California, vendor announced the deliver of its CL 800 tape drive (starting at $5,899) in October, just before the friendly acquisition announcement by Quantum. Quantum expects its $60 million acquisition of Certance to be completed by the end of the year.
HP, the third member of the LTO alliance, is also due to start delivering an LTO Ultrium 3 tape drive at some point soon. The company is expected to make its LTO 3 tape drive announcement next Monday.
This article has been corrected. The original specs provided for Quantum’s SDLT drive were for compressed data, not its native capability. IT Jungle regrets the error. [Correction made 12/16/04].