The Ultrium LTO tape consortium is predicting that the fourth generation of the mid-range tape drives and cartridges that will feature native encryption will begin to reach customers before the second quarter of the year.
The consortium has completed the specification for LTO 4, and is basing its forecast for product availability on the history of previous development timetables by its members IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Quantum. As with previous generations, LTO 4 increases capacity by 100% and throughput by 50%, to give 800 GB per cartridge native capacity, and 120 MB/sec throughput.
LTO 4 drives will also be able to encrypt data at wire-speed. The policy for LTO backwards compatibility has been for each new generation to be able to read tape cartridges of the previous two generations, and write to cartridges of one previous generation. But for the encrypted data, LTO 4 drives will only be able to read and write to LTO 4 cartridges. The consortium admitted that it would be technically possible to make the encryption backwards compatible.
At first glance the decision not to do so might look like it was driven by a desire to sell more tape cartridges. But the consortium insisted that its intention is to make life easier for customers by creating a clean break between encryptable and non- encryptable tapes. This will eliminate the problems that would occur if a tape written with encrypted data by an LTO 4 drive were later loaded into an LTO 3 drive not able to detect or decrypt encrypted data.
Since the first LTO products began shipping in 2000, LTO has come to dominate the mid-range tape market. According to analyst Freeman Reports, LTO accounted for 58% of all compact tape drive revenue last year. That category includes Quantum's DLT and DLT S drives which together accounted for 13% of revenue, and DAT drives made by HP, Quantum and others, which scored 15% of revenue.
The biggest direct rival to LTO is the DLT-S format owned by Quantum. DLT-S drives have been shipping with a native encryption Although DLT-S and LTO initially leapfrogged each other in speed and capacity of successive generations, Quantum soon changed its focus and made raw capacity the priority for DLT-S.
As a result, the current generation of DLT-S4 drives have been shipping since last year with the same 800 GB capacity that LTO-4 will deliver in a few months time, but with a throughput far lower, at only 60 MB/sec.
The LTO consortium said that generations five and six will continue to double capacity and increase throughput by 50%, and will probably each take two years to arrive.