StorageTek has earned millions over the past five years with a robotic tape library for IBM and other brands of mainframe computers. Much like a jukebox, the machine can automatically store and retrieve hundreds of tape cartridges in seconds. Customers have flocked to buy Storage Technology Corp.'s machine because it saves them considerable labor costs; in some conventional tape libraries, people fetch reels of tape while wearing roller skates to keep up with the computer.
On May 19, IBM plans to launch its own tape jukebox. It will be the first major product from IBM's Adstar Div., formed last December to address the data-storage market with tape and disk drives. A few years ago, IBM tried selling a tape library in Europe, but the machine, based on equipment supplied by another company, produced few sales. With so little competition from IBM, StorageTek's revenues have grown from $902 million in 1987 to $1.6 billion last year.