IBM, HP Board LTO-3 Train

The three vendors originally worked together to develop the LTO tape drive specifications in 1997. LTO-3 is the third generation of the drives.

Charlie Andrews, director of product marketing for tape storage at Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, on Tuesday said his company plans to start shipping the stand-alone SCSI 3580, a retail version of the LTO-3 drive with its own external case and power supply, on Dec. 17.

SCSI OEM LTO-3 drives, aimed at OEMs of tape libraries, are expected to become available in December, followed by Fibre Channel versions sometime in the first quarter of 2005, Andrews said. While about 70 percent of the LTO market is SCSI drives, IBM's sales are nearly split between SCSI and Fibre Channel, he said.

LTO-3 tape drives have native capacity of 400 Gbytes. IBM's versions offer throughput of up to 80 MBps, compared with about 68 MBps for Certance's models.

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Andrews said his company's new LTO-3 drives offer more than double the performance of its LTO-2 family, which topped out at about 35 MBps, yet because of improved cooling capabilities the new drives are more reliable than the previous models.

The WORM (write once, read many) version of LTO-3 drives is expected to be available from IBM and other vendors in January, said Andrews.

An HP spokesperson said that HP, Palo Alto, Calif., plans to unveil internal and external versions of its LTO-3 tape drives in a couple of weeks, with general availability planned for Dec. 13. OEM versions for libraries will follow later. The spokesperson would not discuss capacity or performance details.

Going forward, LTO-4 tape drive technology, which is expected to offer 800 Gbytes of capacity per cartridge with double the throughput of LTO-3, is expected to be available from the three vendors within the next 18 months to 24 months, said Andrews.

"In general, a big part of the value proposition of LTO is the fact that it is a multivendor product," he said. "It is important that all vendors come out with new products. With the third-generation products, it shows our road map has remained unchanged since the start."