Sony is expected to launch a new format tape drive at the CeBit technology show in March with a capacity outstripping rival technologies.
Currently shipping to original equipment manufacturers for evaluation, the new format drives and media are called super advanced intelligent tape (S-AIT) and provide an uncompressed capacity of 500GB (1.3TB compressed), on a single half-inch tape.
This trumps the current leader, Quantum's super digital linear tape (SDLT), which is 320GB compressed (although the firm plans to increase this to 600GB this summer) and the IBM/HP/Seagate-sponsored linear tape open (LTO) at 200GB.
But it is unclear how much market share S-AIT will take, especially as Sony is still negotiating with potential partners.
Gavin Metier, research analyst at IDC, said: "To build market share [versus LTO and SDLT] Sony must develop competitive routes to market.
"The real challenge is to get its technology in front of enterprises considering upgrading from older products."
In using half-inch media Sony has switched away from the 8mm format used by AIT.
Mark Lufkin, Sony Business Europe's general manager of sales and marketing, said the change had been made because S-AIT was aimed at the high capacity backup automation market.
AIT development would continue in parallel for PC server backup, he said.
Sony has also outlined its roadmap for the new format, with capacity set to double every two years.
Lufkin promised that S-AIT would remain a generation ahead of SDLT and LTO in capacity, but added that the new format was compatible.
"It uses the same 5.25in drive form factor as SDLT and LTO, so tape libraries could use mixed media," he said.
Delivery of S-AIT drives will begin next month, with general availability in March and April, priced at approximately £6,200.
The drives will achieve a sustained transfer rate of 30MBps or 78MBps in compressed mode, equivalent to LTO and marginally less than SDLT.
S-AIT uses helical scan recording which achieves greater inherent density than competitor technologies using linear recording.
But transfer rates are slowed because the tape moves at only 2cm per second compared with 2-3m per second for linear.
Lufkin said this meant reduced tape pulling which, along with other factors, led to S-AIT achieving greater reliability. He said Sony aimed for 500,000 hours mean time between failures.
The news comes hard on the heels of Quantum's SDLT roadmap showing 1.2TB and 2.4TB capacities in 2004 and 2006.
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