Sun Microsystems and Imation said July 5 that they have agreed to jointly develop and launch a new version of the Sun StorageTek T9840 drive platform.
The product is scheduled for delivery in early 2007 and aims to increase the capacity of its half-inch tape cartridges to 75GB from the current 40GB, a 53 percent jump.
Suns current StorageTek model, the T9840C, features a 12-second data access time and a data throughput rate of 30MB per second. The planned fourth-generation T9840D will maintain these access rates while increasing capacity, a company spokesperson said.
The T9840D, which works in both mainframe and open-system data centers, will offer backward-read compatibility to any 9840 media version and will be equipped with device-level encryption for written cartridges.
Imation, based in Oakdale, Minn., has made the tape cartridges for StorageTeks tape drives for more than a decade and came into this partnership through Suns acquisition of StorageTek in 2005.
There have been three generations of the 9840 tape drive: Generation 1 supported 20GB capacity; Generation 2 was also 20GB but offered a faster protocol: FICON (Fibre Connection) rather than ESCON (Enterprise Systems Connection) architecture, which is design for mainframes. Generation 2 also featured 2GB Fibre Channel, rather than 1GB FC, for open systems shops.
The third—and current—generation supports 40GB tape cartridge capacity.
"It speaks very well for this technology that it is in its fourth generation," Imation marketing development manager Tim Bjork told eWEEK.
"Its really a tribute to the design of the drive and cartridges themselves. They are very rugged and have proven durable in the data center."
The proprietary internal tape path design is one of the key ingredients that sets the Imation cartridge apart in the marketplace, Bjork said.
Data integrity, access time and longevity of the cartridge itself are improved because the tape movements are managed completely within the cartridge, he said.
The tape rides on a cushion of air that virtually eliminates friction between the tape and guides, Bjork said.
Storage industry analyst Bob Abraham of Freeman Reports in Ojai, Calif., said that the first three generations of the 9840 have been very successful over their six years in the market and he predicts this new storage drive will do the same.
"Customers have been wanting to expand their capacities and still continue using the  systems they already have in place. This new drive fits that need precisely."
Abraham said the 9840 works well in both mainframe and open systems environments and will bring additional benefits to both companies as time goes on.
"The fallout technologies both companies will see as a result of this collaborative development process will be valuable," Abaham said. "Im sure that as Imation and Sun work on their [future] terrashore products, they will be able to utilize some of the technology they create here in the 9840."
Dianne McAdam, storage analyst with The Clipper Group in Wellesley, Mass., told eWEEK via e-mail that when the new "D" product becomes available the competitors will be IBM, HP and Quantum, but "they all sell a different model of tape drive called LTO, that have all [also] announced their fourth generation [although it is not yet available]."
LTO does not support mainframe environments, McAdam said.
"Each LTO generation drive has supported about double the capacity of the previous drives, so the trend is that tape drive/cartridge vendors usually come out with a drive that will double the capacity of the previous generation," she added.
LTO drives are not as fast as the 9840 series, but are higher capacity (LTO 3 supports 400GB of capacity).
"So if customers need really fast drives [or are mainframe shops] they will buy 9840. Open systems customers can buy LTO drives for higher capacities," McAdam said.
Dave Woodruff, director of media operations of Visa Corp., said that his shop relies on the T9840 system as the workhorse of his data center.
"Every second counts and every bit of data can be critical in todays online environment," Woodruff said.