IBM and Fujifilm are tinkering with 35TB tape storage

Yes Sir, that’s Terabytes

TAPE DRIVES HAVE sort of faded into the dark over the past few years as a backup medium, although many enterprise backup solutions still rely on them on a daily basis. The storage capacities of the various backup tape technologies haven’t really kept up with the development in the hard drive storage market and as such the largest backup tapes only hold about half as much data as today’s largest hard drives.

However, that is all set to change if IBM and Fujifilm have anything to say about it, as today the two have demonstrated a new type of backup tape technology that is estimated to be able to hold a whopping 35 Terabytes of data per cartridge. The press release claims this is about 44 times as much as IBM’s gen 4 LTO cartridges can store, since a gen 4 LTO cartridge fits 800GB. This is of course just a prototype at this stage, but it does show some interesting promise for the future of using tape as a backup solution.

The prototype tape has a storage density of 29.5 billion bits per square inch, which isn’t anywhere close to a modern PMR (Perpendicular Magnetic Recording) hard disk drive in terms of data density, as a PMR drive can pack 300-400 Gigabits per square inch. The important thing to take into consideration here though is the length of the tapes that are used. Keeping with IBM’s own comparisons, a standard LTO 4 tape is 820 meters long, that’s 32,283 inches, although the LTO 4 tape is also only 12.65mm wide, or just under half an inch, the same width as the prototype tape.

The new tape is dual coated and the magnetic material is based on barium ferrite. The press release states that the new tape has “more than [a] 25-fold increase in the number of tracks that can be squeezed onto the half-inch-wide tape.” Considering that an LTO 4 tape has some 896 tracks, this is suggesting that the new tape has well over 20,000 tracks. The new tape also has a track width of less than 0.45 micrometers. This is so tiny that we failed to find a good comparison to anything that would make sense.

This was made possible by a new servo pattern in combination with a new method for detecting and decoding the position information in the servo pattern and an advanced state-space-based control concept that combined the other two technologies. The new servo has a standard deviation of a mere 24nm. A new low-friction GMR (giant magnetoresistive) read/write head was also developed that allows the use of smoother magnetic tapes among other things.

As this is still very much a work in progress we’re not sure when we’ll see actual products based on this new technology. However, we’re fairly certain that those involved with large corporate backup solutions that currently involve hundreds or thousands of tapes and massive robotic tape silos can’t wait to reduce their tape libraries with the help of this new technology.S|A

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