Sony is only manufacturing AIT drives and automation systems to order ahead of its planned withdrawal from the market in March 2010.
The technology never really recovered from backward compatibility issues that dogged the fourth generation and suffered from the industry’s shift to more flexible LTO drives, heavily promoted by the likes of HP and IBM.
In a letter sent to partners, Tom Murai, director of marketing at Sony’s Media and Application Solutions Division, said the decision to wind down manufacture was made after “careful review and consideration”.
He said it should have kit available until March next year, but “due to stronger than expected sales demand, we are already running out of some product lines, specifically the AIT-2T, AIT-3, and AIT-5 tape drives”.
Distributors have run down their stock profiles and are operating on an order-only basis. Hammer, which claimed to be Sony’s largest AIT partner across Europe, said it is shipping 20 to 30 units per month, compared with 600 previously.
“There is a certain amount of manufacture in the Far East, but there are very small amounts coming to the UK. We are taking orders but are not proactively selling it,” said Mike Kennedy, Hammer business development manager for drives and media.
He rued the cessation of AIT as it had a strong “installed base in education”, but conceded that the backwards compatibility problems with AIT 4 that prevented it from reading or writing to previous iterations damaged the adoption of the fifth generation.
The future for AIT “was always going to be limited” as the industry shifts to other tape technologies such as LTO, said Overland Storage, but it insisted the withdrawal by Sony did not have wider implications for tape in general.
“Tape remains an integral part of the archival strategy for most businesses,” said Andy Walksy, Overland EMEA vice-president for sales and marketing.
“With most of the UK economy still under financial pressure, many IT decisions will continue to be driven by cost, ensuring that tape remains an integral part of any firm’s data archiving strategy,” he added.