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In November of 1997, the Linear Tape Open Technology (LTO) initiative was announced by three of the world's largest technology giants: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Seagate. The fact that three fierce competitors would get together to collaborate on a technology might have seemed odd, but in the face of stiff competition from other proprietary tape formats such as DLT, the LTO initiative was established as a response to the market's need for an open format. The major objective of the group was to come up with a solution that would provide enterprise-wide data protection by accommodating a large range of tape storage requirements, from single server to complex networked environments, in a fast-access and high capacity format. Out of these unprecedented brainstorming sessions, in which some of the most brilliant minds in the storage industry participated, came both the LTO Ultrium format (single-reel; high capacity; end loading) and the LTO Accellis format (dual-reel; fast access; mid-loading).
According to the LTO specifications, the Accellis format was designed for quick data access and specifically slated for automated environments where it could provide tape storage solutions for a wide range of 'on-line' data inquiry and read-intensive applications. At the other end of the storage need spectrum, the Ultrium format was optimized for high capacity storage where it could be used for backup, restore, and archive applications -- in either a stand-alone or an automated environment and was designed to store large amounts of data. From the beginning, Ultrium was quick to catch on, and has continued its growth and acceptance in the industry to the point where it now garners about a 70 percent market share. In contrast, the Accellis format was never given the same vote of confidence by tape buyers, and has, in effect, been put on the shelf. Given the fanfare that surrounded the announcement of both formats, this has left many people asking a very good question. What ever happened to Accellis?
To find out, we spoke to some of those involved in the inception and ongoing development of the LTO standard, including Bruce Master, program manager for tape product management at IBM, Stephen Holmes, LTO business manager at Hewlett Packard, and Brad Renfree, director of strategic management at Seagate.
According to Master, shortly after the LTO initiative was first announced, disk prices started to drop dramatically, so emerging markets such as data mining and transactional processing turned to disk as a medium for storage rather than to a new tape technology. Although this did not actually 'kill' Accellis, it was more or less responsible for putting it on the shelf.
"Customers had an introduction to the two specs offered by the LTO initiative and ultimately they chose the Ultrium format because of its high performance and disaster recovery capabilities," says Master. "In addition, the Ultrium format minimizes the common tradeoffs made between reliability, capacity, and date transfer rates," says Renfree.
And, according to Holmes, at the time the three technology giants were developing the specs, even though the industry as a whole was looking at the need for the Accellis format, the three tech giants soon found out that fast access tape in open systems was not going to work out the way they first envisioned it would.