The latest announcement from tape vendor Exabyte Corp. is one more indication that the tape storage market is far from dead.

The Boulder, Colo., company announced earlier this week that it has released a rack-mountable LTO-2 tape autoloader that combines the company’s ExaBotics robotics with one field-replaceable LTO-2 drive and seven cartridge slots, providing up to 187 GB per hour data transfer speed and 1.4 TB native capacity. The Magnum 1×7 LTO Autoloader includes a bar-code reader, Ethernet port for network administration and remote management capability.

LTO-enabled autoloaders represent the lions’ share of all autoloaders in use today, said Robert Amatruda, a research analyst with International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass.

The Magnum 1×7 LTO Autoloader complements Exabyte’s existing product portfolio, meeting the needs of midsized companies.

Exabyte’s VXA-2 PacketLoader on the low end and full-fledged LTO automation devices on the high end, said Bob Abraham, a tape industry analyst at Freeman Reports Inc., an Ojai, Calif., market research firm specializing in the storage industry.

The product’s price point of about $5,000, which makes it the lowest-cost LTO-2 autoloader introduced so far, also makes it attractive to smaller businesses, he said.

Introduction of the aggressively priced and well-positioned product was a necessary step for Exabyte, which faces stiff competition from Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC), Quantum Corp. and Overland Storage, especially because most tape automation products in this class are manufactured and re-branded to other server and storage system providers, Amatruda said. Exabyte has major OEM agreements for IBM, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Siemens and Acer for its VXA line of tape drives.

Other competition may come in the form of better-capitalized competitors expected to target the midrange autoloader market with aggressively priced 1U and 2U autoloaders in the coming year, he said.

The midrange autoloader market is particularly interesting to tape vendors because of its pervasiveness. IDC estimates that at the close of 2003, autoloaders accounted for 38 percent of midrange tape automation shipments.

Click here to read about Quantum’s leap into the Linear Tape Open technology arena.

Although the LTO-2 market eventually will lose muster as LTO-3 autoloaders take center stage, Abraham said the introduction of a low-cost LTO-2 autoloader is still a good move for Exabyte.

“LTO-2 is a cash-cow product right now—currently the highest volume LTO technology,” he said. “There are several years of life left on LTO-2,” he said.

LTO-3 technology will come into its own in 2005. So far, only Certance—now owned by Quantum —has introduced an LTO-3 product, but others such as Spectra Logic have already announced plans to introduce similar technology. LTO-3 drives are expected to double the capacity of LTO-2 drives, provide faster backups and be able to read LTO-1 and LTO-2 tapes.

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