Has IBM leaked details of LTO7?

220 TB tape drive

Posted on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Following on from our recent report on the continuing success of LTO6, IBM has announced another massive step forward in tape technology. Working with Fujifilm, IBM has developed a prototype that packs 220TB of data onto a standard LTO-size tape.

The as-yet-unnamed technology offers 88 times the capacity of LTO6, which is capable of holding a mere 2.5TB of uncompressed data. Unfortunately it may be many years before the new technology finally makes it to market; IBM claims that many of the storage technologies reaching market now were first developed in 2007.

This latest technology breakthrough is a significant step forward with tape heads having to be accurate to as little as 6 nanometers in order to fit more data onto the tape. Even the barium ferrite particles that make up the magnetic layer on the tape surface have been reduced in size to help add more tracks.

Unfortunately the final maximum capacity of this latest tape drive generation may also be less than the headline 220TB. Backwards compatibility considerations will almost certainly rule out a move to 6 nanometer technology for some time to come, as the preceding generation of drives will be unable to make use of tape tracks that small.

But rather than simply helping to expand the potential backup capacity for enterprise-class organisations, IBM believe this latest technology will also have a part to play in the Cloud too. The incredibly low $ per GB price means that tape could be the perfect medium for large-scale Cloud data archives where speed of retrieval is of secondary importance to capacity.

The fact that IBM continues to devote significant resources to developing new technologies, coupled with the ongoing increases in tape drive sales, goes to prove that magnetic tape still has a future. And this fact should provide food for thought for any organisation considering retiring their existing tape drive arrays in favour of a Cloud service that may itself be reliant on magnetic tape storage.