IBM, FujiFilm Set New Tape Capacity Record

IBM scientists, working with FujiFilm of Japan, recorded data onto an advanced prototype tape at a density of 29.5 billion bits per square inch -- about 39 times the areal data density of today's standard BM LTO Generation 4 cartridge.

IBM revealed Jan. 22 that digital tape-thought dead by many storage industry people for more than a decade-still has plenty of room for development.

Researchers, led by IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou, demonstrated a world record in areal data density on linear magnetic tape. The research and testing were done over the last few years at IBM's research facility in Zurich, Switzerland.

The scientists, working with FujiFilm of Japan, recorded data onto an advanced prototype tape at a density of 29.5 billion bits per square inch-about 39 times the areal data density of today's standard IBM LTO Generation 4 cartridge. The tape itself measures 800 meters in length by one-half-inch wide.

The new technology is estimated to enable cartridge capacities that can hold up to 35 trillion bytes (terabytes) of uncompressed data. This is about 44 times the capacity of the LTO Gen 4 cartridge.
A capacity of 35 terabytes of data can store the texts of about 35 million books, IBM said.

"Basically, we can pack a lot more data onto a tape cartridge than ever before," Eleftheriou told eWEEK from his lab in Switzerland. "We now can store about 35TB of data onto one tape cartridge. Quite a high number!"

Spinning disk drives also continue to improve their areal densities every few months using the perpendicular magnetic recording method. Perpendicular magnetic recording is a technology for recording data on hard disks that was first demonstrated in Japan in 1976. The technique is capable of delivering up to 10 times the storage density of conventional longitudinal recording-on the same media.

PMR is similar to what IBM and FujiFilm are using in tape, Eleftheriou said. FujiFilm has optimized its next-generation dual-coat magnetic tape based on barium ferrite (BaFe) particles, he said.

"The magnetic field is perpendicularly oriented, in this particular demo. It is essential. But what also is essential is that we use particulate media designed by FujiFilm," Eleftheriou said. "Clearly, the orientation of the magnetic field, the size of the particles-all these parameters determine how much utilization you can get out of this medium.

"This helps increase the linear density and track density, which together determines the areal density, and the areal density gives you the capacity."

This areal-density breakthrough indicates that tape technology can increase capacity for years to come ("Perhaps up through 2018," Eleftheriou said), which has important enterprise implications.

Tape storage is the most energy-efficient and cost-effective way to store digital data because when not used, tape storage systems require no energy. Businesses and governments use magnetic tape to store, protect and access vast amount of important data, including data and video archives, backup files, replicas for disaster recovery, and retention of information required for regulatory compliance.
The new tape technology is probably a year away from general availability.

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...