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March 3, 2020updated 18 Jul 2022 11:47am

Fujitsu Claims a Major Magnetic Tape Breakthrough: Too Little, Too Late?

Tape reads 4.1 faster using new technique, now in testing...

By CBR Staff Writer

Fujitsu claims it has radically reworked the Linear Tape File System (LTFS), in an innovation will make it over four times faster to read data stored on magnetic tape.

The announcement comes seven months after the Japanese firm ended a major legal dispute with rival Sony that had seen global supplies of LTO-8 magnetic tape dry up.

Tape is widely used as a low-cost, large-capacity storage solution alternative to hard disks (HDD) and primarily deployed for backup purposes, as well as archiving.

Understanding LTO and LFTS

LFTS was itself a game-changer for the storage industry.

LTFS was first introduced by IBM as a prototype file system for the Linux and Mac OS in 2008 and has been progressively upgraded since this point.

Under LTFS, one tape “partition” holds the content and the other holds the content’s index, making it much easier and faster for users to find the data they need.

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Before it was introduced, the software that reads tape contents had to load an entire tape to reveal what was on it. With the introduction of LTFS, the tape appears as a device and allows you to drag and drop files to and from the tape.

(This, in turn, relies on magnetic tape technology called Linear Tape-Open, or LTO, introduced by IBM, HPE, and Quantum over the past 10 years. LTO-8 holds around 30TB of compressed data capacity on a single cartridge for about £130).

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What’s Fujitsu Claiming? 

Fujitsu claims it has hugely expanded the functionality of the LTFS, with “new technology [that] successfully achieves speeds 4.1 times faster than conventional methods.”

Often when vast amounts of data is stored using magnetic tapes – via LTFS – data is held in various directories on each tape cartridges. The proposed new file system virtually integrates multiple tape cartridges into one accessible format. This allows users to access data without first picking a specific tape cartridge on their OS.

When traditional LTFS stores data it creates an index of each file on the magnetic tape, however this grows exponentially as file sizes increase, thus causing the system to suffer performance issues.

Fujitsu say that its system uses a mechanism to “keep small files smaller than a specified file size together as large files on LTFS”.

Also, it claims, “by managing the metadata of user files in the virtual integrated file system, it is possible to quickly display a list in a way other than data reading, add extended attributes, or delete files without accessing the magnetic tape…”

With the new technique, the time required to read 100 files randomly from a total of 50,000 individual 100 MB files stored on magnetic tape was 5,400 seconds with “conventional” read methods.

By using the new technology, it was possible to confirm a read in 1,300 seconds, while the time required to move 256 individual 1 MB files on an HDD onto magnetic tape has dropped to 1.3 seconds from 2.5 seconds.

It is conducting further trials and hopes to commercialise the technology by the end of fiscal 2022.

While numerous other storage technologies are emerging, from phase-change memory through to even more esoteric approaches like using lasers and glass, or DNA, few look set to be as affordable and accessible as tape anytime in the near future.

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Magnetic tape storage is still widely used and as organisations move massive data swamps into accessible archive storage, cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud appear to have turned to the readily and cheaply available magnetic tape.

Last year when AWS launched its archival data storage it noted that: “Maintaining tape infrastructure is difficult and time-consuming; tapes degrade if not properly stored and require multiple copies, frequent validation, and periodic refreshes to maintain data durability.” When asked by Computer Business Review if tape was still used in its S3 Glacier Deep Archive it declined to say no outright.

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