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May 20, 2014

Is tape storage set to make a comeback?

IBM sets new record for storing high quantities of big data.

By Duncan Macrae

Researchers at IBM have set a new record of 85.9 billion bits of data per square inch in areal data density on low-cost linear magnetic particulate tape.

This is thought to be a significant update to one of the computer industry’s most resilient, reliable and affordable data storage technologies for Big Data.

At this areal density, a standard LTO size cartridge could store up to 154 trillion bytes (154 terabytes) of uncompressed data – a 62 fold improvement over an LTO6 cartridge, the latest industry-standard magnetic tape product. To put this into perspective, 154 terabytes of data is sufficient to store the text from 154 million books, which would fill a book shelf stretching from Las Vegas to Seattle, Washington.

This new record was achieved using a new advanced prototype tape, developed by FUJIFILM of Japan. This is the third time in less than 10 years that IBM scientists in collaboration with FUJIFILM have achieved such an accomplishment. The news is being unveiled this week at the IBM Edge conference in front of more than 5,500 attendees.

IBM scientists break Big Data into four dimensions – volume, variety, velocity and veracity and by 2020 these so-called Four V’s of Big Data will be responsible for 40 zettabytes (40 trillion gigabytes) of data. Much of this data is archival, such as video archives, back-up files, replicas for disaster recovery, and retention of information required for regulatory compliance. Because tape systems are energy efficient and more cost-effective than hard disks they are the ideal technology to store, protect and access archival Big Data.

For example, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. By the end of the LHC’s first three-year running period, more than 100 petabytes of physics data had been stored in the CERN mass-storage systems. Most of this data is archived on more than 52,000 tape cartridges of different types, providing scientists with permanent access to data, which could someday answer fundamental questions about the universe.

Evangelos Eleftheriou, IBM fellow, said: "Big data has met its match with tape, not only does the technology provide high capacity in a small form factor, it is also reliable for several decades, requires zero power when not in use, is secure in that cartridges cannot be erased at the push of the keystroke and available for the cloud – all at a cost of less than 2 cents per gigabyte and at a greatly reduced operating expense versus disk storage."

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To achieve 85.9 billion bits per square inch, IBM researchers have developed several new critical technologies, including:
– a new enhanced write field head technology that enables the use of much finer barium ferrite (BaFe) particles
– advanced servo control technologies that achieve head positioning with nano-scale fidelity and enable a 27 fold increase in track density compared to the LTO6 format
– innovative signal-processing algorithms for the data channel that enable reliable operation with a ultra narrow 90nm wide giant magnetoresistive (GMR) reader.

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