Having grown up in the 1960s, I remember Tandberg as the Norwegian company that made some of the best tape decks and stereo equipment. Tandberg has a subsidiary—Tandberg Data (see the first URL at the end of the column)—which became a separate entity in 1979. Tandberg Data is well known in Europe but not in the United States. However, that situation might change soon.

Tandberg Data, which dwarfs Tandberg's other components, found its niche after introducing tape storage products—starting with 20MB Scalable Linear Recording (SLR) cartridges in 1980 and progressing to 4TB tape drives by 1999. Tandberg Data's SLR technology began shipping with IBM's AS/400 platform, and the technology has moved into the small-to-midrange tape market. The current SLR 100 has a capacity of 50GB/100GB (native/compressed) with 18 gigabits per hour (Gbph) to 36Gbph throughput; the company's roadmap contains the SLR 160 (80GB/160GB; 43Gbph to 86Gbph) and the SLR 400 (200GB/400GB; 360Gbph).

The company is one of the world's largest tape producers, and its technology is part of many OEM products. In fact, since 1998, Tandberg has been the second largest DLT provider to the Windows storage market. To date, Tandberg Data has shipped about 3 million tape drives, most of them based on SLR technology.

Storage industry experts speculate that hard disk technology will overtake tape as the more economical data storage format in the near future. If you set aside differences in portability, when you calculate the per-megabyte cost of storage, disk is predicted to be cheaper than tape within 5 years. Disk has the added advantage of faster access times. However, new Tandberg Data tape technology on the horizon might change the future of tape storage.

Tandberg Data has briefed storage analysts about its new tape head and tape format technology based on High Speed Optical Servo. The will offer a dense multichannel reading and writing format that provides fast access to data on tape and fault tolerance for that data. Tandberg Data maintains that this technology will alter the financial and performance picture for high-performance tape. The technology involves a new array write head and optical read head, a new mechanical platform, and a new cartridge concept. Tandberg Data's first generation based on this new technology offers 600GB on tape (native), a transfer rate of 64MBps (also native), and an average access time of less than 3.5 seconds for a media cost of less than 10 cents per gigabyte. Evaluation units of this technology might be available fourth quarter 2003.

Such tape devices would have the speed of current hard disks at a fraction of the cost—significantly altering the effective life of enterprise tape in the marketplace. This technology give tapes a real shot at finally producing an attractive high-density, near-online storage medium.

If Tandberg Data delivers on this technology as intended, the company will have exciting products to offer to various OEMs in the enterprise storage market. Stay tuned for further developments.