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Tape Breakthrough

A capacity leap means tape is here for the long haul

A capacity leap means tape is here for the long haul
Illustration by Ken Edmondson

For many organizations, especially larger ones, tape has long been an indispensable storage medium. But recent announcements about hard-disk-based data deduplication technologies have some considering moving away from tape altogether.

IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou says that move may be premature, especially when it comes to archival data. This is particularly apparent now that IBM, in conjunction with Fujifilm, has announced a new record in magnetic-tape data areal density. Using a new barium ferrite (BaFe) technology and other storage advances, IBM Research and Fujifilm have shown that putting 29.5 billion bits per square inch on tape (or about 44 times the capacity of today’s IBM LTO* Generation 4 cartridge) is not only theoretically feasible—it’s been demonstrated.

This is significant because, according to Eleftheriou, tape is low cost, green and—as proven over many years—very reliable, particularly for data-retention purposes. In contrast, hard-disk drives (HDDs), as anyone who owns even a PC can attest to, are prone to mechanical failure. So any organization considering moving away from tape in favor of HDDs may be interested in the recent conversation IBM Systems Magazine had with Eleftheriou.

Q: Why is this announcement so important?
A: Well, it includes exciting news showing that tape is alive, despite what the competition has been saying about its imminent death.

Q: What’s the competition saying? 
A: They’re basically saying that tape doesn’t scale, it’s probably close to death and everything will be replaced by HDD storage systems with or without deduplication. What we’ve demonstrated is the extendibility of the tape-storage roadmap for at least another 10 years, which means that tape still has a long life ahead of it.

Q: Before we delve into the details, could you explain why tape has become indispensable in so many computing environments? 
A: Tape became indispensable primarily because of its low cost. The fact that for years the cost of ownership per gigabyte in tape has been roughly a factor of 10 less than in disk makes it really important in the storage area. I think this was the key reason why tape stayed alive.

Eventually, we also discovered that power consumption is equally important, and that it of course contributes to the total cost of ownership. In fact, tape is indisputably the greenest storage technology. It doesn’t consume any power until it’s put into actual work. You have a cartridge in a library, and it’s just sitting there. You don’t have disks spinning all the time. You only start consuming power when you need to retrieve information and move the robotics to get the cartridge and insert it into a drive. This low power consumption makes tape an extremely green storage technology, which is very important today. It’s for this and other reasons that tape has become and remains to be an important technology.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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