IBM Research Sets New Record for Tape Storage

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IBM has set a new record for storing data on super-cheap tape drives achieving a storage density of 220 terabytes per cartridge.  Who said tape memory is obsolete?ibm3

Scientists at IBM Research have demonstrated a recording density of 123 billion bits of uncompressed data per square inch on a new, advanced prototype particulate magnetic tape developed by FujiFilm in collaboration with IBM scientists.  To put this in perspective, 220 terabytes of data is comparable to 1.37 trillion mobile text messages or the text of 220 million books, which would require a 2,200 km bookshelf spanning from Las Vegas to Houston, Texas.

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“With this demonstration, we prove again that tape will continue to play an important role in the storage hierarchy for years to come,” said IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou.  “This milestone reaffirms IBM’s continued commitment and leadership in magnetic tape technology.”

The record was achieved using a new, advanced prototype tape developed by FUJIFILM Corporation of Japan, in collaboration with IBM scientists.  This is the fourth time in less than 10 years that IBM Research and FUJIFILM have collaborated to achieve such a feat.  This new record demonstrates that computer tape, a storage medium invented in 1952 with an initial capacity of about 2 megabytes per reel, continues to be an ideal technology not just for storing enormous amounts of back-up and archival data, but for new applications such as Big Data and cloud computing.  While tape has traditionally been used on premise for video archives, back-up files, replicas for disaster recovery and retention of information, off-premise applications in the cloud are beginning to emerge due to its low cost, which averages just a few pennies per gigabyte.ibm1

IBM Research scientists in Zurich are exploring the integration of tape technology with current cloud object storage systems such as OpenStack Swift.  This would enable object storage on tape and allow users to migrate cold data to a low-cost cloud based storage tier suited for back-up or archival use cases.  A research prototype of this technology is being demonstrated next week at the 2015 National Association Broadcasters Show in the IBM booth.