IBM, FujiFilm Demonstrate Record Tape Storage Density

IBM scientists have broken -- actually, obliterated -- a storage density standard that has been on the books for years.

Tape storage sometimes gets back into the news, even in 2015. Although tape is generally regarded as a diminishing market, in reality, it’s holding steady. The continuing deluge of new data pouring into enterprise arrays from millions of new devices is requiring storage of all types to be put to work.

Some 45 percent of enterprises still maintain some type of tape storage, according to industry metrics. Certain sectors, such as television and radio stations, video services and other video-related businesses, use digital tape as a standard. Most enterprises simply see it as the easiest, least-expensive and most familiar form of maintaining deep archive records for long periods of time.

The tape news here is that IBM scientists have broken -- actually, obliterated -- a storage density standard that has been on the books for years. Big Blue's tape team demonstrated an areal recording density of 123 billion bits of uncompressed data per square inch on low cost, particulate magnetic tape. The breakthrough represents the equivalent of a 220TB tape cartridge that could fit in the palm of your hand.

To put this into perspective, 220TB of data is comparable to 1.37 trillion mobile text messages or the text of 220 million books.

This new record indicates that computer tape – a storage medium invented in 1952 with an initial capacity of about 2MB per reel -- continues to be an option, and not just for storing enormous amounts of back-up and archival data, but possibly for applications such as big data analytics.

The record-setting demonstration, announced April 9, represents an 88-fold improvement over an LTO6 cartridge, the latest industry-standard magnetic tape product, and a 22 -fold improvement over IBM's current enterprise class tape product.

Since 2002, IBM has been working closely with FujiFilm, particularly on the optimization of its dual-coat magnetic tape based on barium ferrite (BaFe) particles. The results of this collaboration have led to various technology improvements, including an increase in the precision control of the position of the read-write heads. This has resulted in an increase in the number of tracks that can be squeezed onto half-inch-wide tape.

In addition, the scientists have developed new, advanced detection methods to improve the accuracy of reading the tiny magnetic bits, achieving an increase in the linear recording density of more than 76 percent over LTO6, while enabling the use of a reader that is only 90nm in width.

Linear tape-open (or LTO) is a magnetic tape data storage technology originally developed in the late 1990s as an open standards alternative to the proprietary magnetic tape formats that were available at the time.

Today more than 500 exabytes of data reside in tape storage systems, according to IT analyst firm Coughlin Associates. The record was achieved using a new, advanced prototype tape developed by FujiFilm in collaboration with IBM scientists.

IBM Research scientists in Zurich are exploring the integration of tape technology with current cloud object storage systems, such as OpenStack Swift. This would enable object storage on tape and allow users to seamlessly migrate cold data to an extremely low-cost, highly durable cloud based storage tier suited well for back-up or archival use cases.

A research prototype of the new tape technology is on display this week at the 2015 National Association Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas. Additional technical details of the demonstration will be presented at the 2015 Intermag conference (May 11-15) in Beijing and at the IBM EDGE conference (May 11-15) in Las Vegas.

Go here for more technical details on the announcement.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...