300 Million Books Per Kilometer: IBM Extends Magnetic Tape Life

    In early August, researchers from IBM Research, together with Sony Storage Media Solutions, set a new world record by recording 201 GB per square meter. inch of magnetic tape. The thickness of the IBM prototype is only 4.7 micrometers. The new method saves 330 TB of uncompressed data in a palm-sized LTO cartridge. The record volume of data is equivalent to approximately 330 million books per 1,098 m of tape. Scientists expect to be able to double the tape capacity every two years. / Flickr / IBM Research / CC

    Tape off early

    Tapes are still used due to the low cost of technology compared to a disk for storing voluminous video archives and other types of data. Nevertheless, cloud services are gradually crowding out their predecessor. It is generally accepted that the latter remains to live out its life as a reliable, but archaic backup system, supported by enterprises in case of emergency. However, IBM employees believe that the latest breakthrough gives new meaning to magnetic tapes and makes them a valuable addition to cloud services.

    Despite the fact that the cloud offers faster access to data and simpler management than tape libraries, the physical properties of magnetic drives can make hardware more diverse in the device of modern data centers. New signal processing methods allow reading data with a density of 818 thousand bits per inch.

    The Sony Sony tape used by IBM has been improved by applying several thin layers of liquid metal (barium ferrite). Evangelos Eleftheriou, IBM Technical Council Member , believes the technology has potential for growth and is likely to reduce the cost of storing terabytes. This will make the new recording method practical for cold storage in the cloud.

    Corporate cartridges of the highest capacity store 15 TB each, which significantly exceeds the volumes of physical disks and flash memory. Compatibility of readers of old formats with new tapes with a higher data recording density in theory can provide an impressive reduction in the risk of data loss.

    But do not rush

    And although the new technology has serious potential, Roy Cideciyan, one of the authors of an IBM research article, warns that it is not worth waiting for its early mass distribution in data centers. He recalls that the current TS1150 series of tapes, released in 2014, took eight years to cross the lab threshold and enter into commercial use. Roy says it will take ten years for the new generation of tapes.

    The applicability of tapes with a high recording density in data centers will be supported by the mass transition of the technology to the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) file system. This standard was adopted by the LTO Consortium, which includes IBM, in 2010.

    Users can find and retrieve LTFS data using familiar file search tools. Because of this, according to Jon Toigo, chairman of the Data Management Institute, a tape backup system is the best way for long-term storage of data from large enterprises and cloud service providers. Especially considering the longevity and fault tolerance, which technologies add new barium ferrite coatings.

    / Wikimedia / NODC / CC

    Along with the optimistic scenario, there is an alternative view of the future of magnetic tapes. Clive Longbottom, director of research firm QuoCirca, is more cautious in forecasts. He believes that the ability to store a third of a petabyte on a cartridge is amazing in itself, but do not forget about the risk of physical damage to the medium, which is quite large in the case of recording technology on magnetic tapes.

    Anyway, as the notes Rich Gadomskii (Rich Gadomski), vice president of marketing at Fujifilm Recording Media USA, in the expansion of the use of magnetic tapes sent to large investments. And the historical role of technology as a tool for data backup is changing to a more active position in the ecosystem of data centers. “We can expect that the role of the tape will continue to grow as more and more data is stored on it,” he concludes.

    One way or another, the future of magnetic drives can be reasoned with optimism, since IBM remains their largest supplier, and corporate employees are ready to make forecasts for decades to come. In addition, the Spectra Logic Digital Data Storage Outlook 2017 report says that cloud service providers will use LTO more often in the future. At the same time, IBM is likely to become the only manufacturer of tape drives.

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