IBM researchers have demonstrated a world record in data density on linear magnetic tape, a dramatic indication that one of the computer industry's oldest and still most affordable data storage technologies has the potential to provide increased capacity for years to come.
The researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, California, packed data onto a test tape at a density of 6.67 billion bits per square inch - more than 15 times the data density of today's most popular industry standard magnetic tape products. To achieve this feat they created several new data-recording technologies and worked with Fuji Photo Film Company of Japan to develop a next-generation dual-coat magnetic tape capable of storing high-density data.
According to David Chancellor-Madison, Storage Manager, IBM South Africa Systems & Technology Group, the demonstration shows that magnetic tape data storage should be able to maintain its cost advantage over other technologies for years to come.
"When these new technologies and tape become available in products - projected to be in about five years - a cartridge the size of an industry-standard Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape cartridge could hold up to 8 trillion bytes (terabytes) of uncompressed data," he says.
This is 20 times the capacity of today's LTO-Generation 3 cartridge, which is about half the physical size of a VHS videocassette. Eight terabytes of data is equivalent to the text in 8 million books, which would require 57 miles of bookshelves.
"With analysts projecting tape automation revenue to grow 8% annually through 2011, our customers are storing increasing amounts of data to manage their enterprises and to address the compliance requirements of laws such as the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act (FAIS) and the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA). Greater data density and cartridge capacity enables them to store more data in less space, helping to keep magnetic tape as the most cost-effective form of data storage," Chancellor-Madison says.
Businesses use magnetic tape to store large volumes of important data that are used infrequently or don't require sub-second access times. These uses include data archives, backup files, replicas for disaster recovery and retention of information required for regulatory compliance. Such data are often contained within automated tape libraries where one or more read-write units service dozens to thousands of tape cartridges.
High-end tape libraries can thus store petabytes - millions of gigabytes - of information. On a per-gigabyte basis, tape systems are currently about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of today's hard-disk-drive storage systems, depending on their size. Moreover, tape cartridges consume no energy unless they are being accessed - unlike spinning disks, which need occasional use to remain operational - providing another area of potential cost savings.
IBM's record-breaking demonstration trumped its 2002 recording of a terabyte of data onto a single 3592-sized cartridge at a density of 1 billion bits per square inch. Over the past two years, Almaden researchers worked closely with Fuji Photo Film Company engineers on the development of a new dual coat magnetic tape media capable of high-density recording.
The Almaden researchers also developed technologies to dramatically improve the capabilities of read-write heads and the methods for positioning the heads and handling the tape to enable data tracks one-tenth as wide as in current products. Scientists from IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory developed a new coding method that improved the accuracy of reading the tiny magnetic bits.