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IBM Sets Areal Density Record for Magnetic Tape 135

digitalPhant0m writes to tell us that IBM researchers have set a new world record for areal data density on linear magnetic tape, weighing in at around 29.5 billion bits per square inch. This achievement is roughly 39 times the density of current industry standard magnetic tape. "To achieve this feat, IBM Research has developed several new critical technologies, and for the past three years worked closely with FUJIFILM to optimize its next-generation dual-coat magnetic tape based on barium ferrite (BaFe) particles. [...] These new technologies are estimated to enable cartridge capacities that could hold up to 35 trillion bytes (terabytes) of uncompressed data. This is about 44 times the capacity of today's IBM LTO Generation 4 cartridge. A capacity of 35 terabytes of data is sufficient to store the text of 35 million books, which would require 248 miles (399 km) of bookshelves."
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IBM Sets Areal Density Record for Magnetic Tape

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  • Man (Score:2, Funny)

    by bmajik ( 96670 )

    I wish I was a researcher working on improving areola density. I didn't think IBM had those kinds of jobs. It certainly never came up at the job fair they were at when I was in college.

  • AWESOME! (Score:2, Redundant)

    Casette Tapes are coming back!

    If Only I still had a Deck!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:41PM (#30863170)

    ... IBM researchers have set a record for compressing the most records of cattle onto clay tablets using their proprietary new cuneiform.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by hoboroadie ( 1726896 )

      I spit my doobie onto the cat, who then knocked over my coffee, when I read that. Well played, sir.

      • by tyrione ( 134248 )

        I spit my doobie onto the cat, who then knocked over my coffee, when I read that. Well played, sir.

        Your ``doobie?''

        And me without my bell-bottoms.

    • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:59PM (#30863406)
      Are you saying tape is outdated? Because for organizations that have large storage requirements you can't get any cheaper than tape, and it has superior archival and transportation properties than HDD's as well.
      • Re:In other news... (Score:5, Informative)

        by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:25PM (#30863688)

        The biggest issue with tape is keeping the density and cartridge capacity up. Even though tapes and magnetic hard drives share a lot in common, storing data on rust is where the similarities end. Tape media contacts the head and is read while the head is contacting, as opposed to HDDs which float very close to the surface of a disk. So, the material the magnetic domains are on has to be sturdy enough for physical contact. Tape does have an advantage that it has more space to store data than a disk platter. However, a lot of that space is taken up by error correction, since there is no way to relocate bad sectors on the fly with tape, and if a block goes bad, it goes bad, no way to recover without ECC, or a way to duplicate the lost data.

        What tape has over hard disks is simplicity. A DLT or LTO-5 tape has one reel for a moving part. Compare that to a hard disk which has the platters, the heads, the wires, and the motors. Drop a tape, and it almost certainly is recoverable. Drop a hard disk, and a person never knows if the hard drive is completely dead, or will die very soon due to the impact. This is also important when it comes to archiving. Tapes, you can put in their cases, drop them axis vertical in an Iron Maiden tub, and your data is secure. With hard disks, you have to put them in padded boxes to help dampen vibrations which can kill the drive.

        Tape drive makers are also responding to the clarion call of encryption. HP's LTO-4 line supports SPIN/SPOUT encryption capabilities. You can set it to use the same passphrase on multiple tapes, or use backup software which sets a different key on each tape and manages which key goes to which tape for better security. Software like Retrospect, Backup Exec, or bru also offer AES encryption with libraries certified by the US government. So, a tape backup is decently secure.

        Tapes can be set to be read-only. This is important because it means that a tape read on a compromised machine won't be able to be tampered with. Some tape systems (DLT) offer WORM functionality to allow for secure archiving of data with the data cryptographically signed by the tape drive. This is important when one has to deal with HIPAA and archiving of data for 7 years, or the FAA and archiving airplane data for 50 years.

        Tapes are fast. This is also one of their weaknesses. If you don't feed them the full amount of their pipeline, the tape drive has to stop and reverse. "Shoe-shining" is not good for tape life, nor the life on heads. So one needs to have tape drives preferably on a computer with the I/O paths to handle it [1].

        Finally, once you buy the drive, tapes are the best bang for byte you can get. Even older tape formats like LTO-4 that give 800 gigs native for $40 is still fairly cheap for the capacity.

        [1]: Ideally, the best use of tape is a network backup server with a good RAID array. You back the machines up to the array, then copy the data to tape. This way, network glitches do not slow down the data being slapped on the tapes.

        • "storing data on rust is where the similarities end"

          Ferrous oxide tape and disk drives haven't been used in new media in over 20 years (30?)
          What cave have you been hiding in?

        • Micro SD-XC for the win.

          Will (eventually) go to 2 TB, have extremely fast random access, very high tolerances (drop it all you want, just don't break it), minute volume (11 x 15 x 1 mm) and no physical contact apart from insertion/removal.

          Yes, break it and you're fucked, but you get reduce your storage volume by a factor 1,400 (231,142.2 mm^3 vs 165 mm^3) compared to LTO.

          Currently the largest capacity micro-sd cards seem to be 16 GB. So you'd need tape in an LTO form factor to be at 21 TB just to compete by

          • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

            Physical volume isn't that big an issue (assuming a cartridge size that can fit in a hand and be easily shuttled around by a tape robot). In fact, people touted DLT/LTO as more reliable because it was a larger format so it could store more, compared to 8mm/AIT. They also touted that the linear scanning of tracks was more error-tolerant than the helical heads.

            To make sure: Tape isn't for everyone. A tape drive that holds a reasonable amount of data (800 gigs native or more) will cost you $4000. For a SO

            • by afidel ( 530433 )
              My feeling is if your requirements are below that of tape then online backup is probably your best bet, not trying to duplicate a tape scheme using cheap USB HDD's.
        • What tape has over hard disks is simplicity.

          Yes and No (mostly "No"). Although a tape cartridge can be a physically reliable device; tape drives (except perhaps at the extreme high end) are typically not. Further, they often evolve in not-backwards-compatible ways.

          A disk drive contains both the media and the mechanism. It typically costs 2x as much as tape EVEN IF YOU CONSIDER THE WHOLE DRIVE THE MEDIA.

          Tape drives, on the other hand, are expensive and touchy beasts where the moving parts are exposed to air and dust.

          Further while the mechanism

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Tape is dead. Long live Tape.

        Don't need to transport HDDs. You just need a big fat fiber-optic connection.

        And what is the point of archiving if in a few years you can't find the drives or the controllers or the whatever to read the media? Having been in this industry for this long, I've already experienced having an archive of something but not able to find a drive to read it. Remember the old TRS-80 and the audio tape drives? State of the art 30-35 years ago, utterly useless today. Even if I could find a c

        • by afidel ( 530433 )
          I can read 16 year old DLT-IV tapes with equipment I have laying around (and have for realestate tax documents for my current employer!). SAS is already almost a decade old and there are draft proposals going out till 2014 that AFAIK maintain backward compatibility.
        • Also consider that ATA hard drives have been electronically compatible since 1986.

          Serial ATA was the first revision to the spec that broke backward compatibility, although that claim is even debatable, given that SATA->PATA adapters are available, and are generally rather simple devices.

          SCSI's a bit more complicated, although you SCSI adapters should be around for a long time to come.

        • Yep. I have several DC2120's with personal data that I just haven't been able to convince myself to get rid of. I have floppies using LHArc compression. I have Central Point Backup backups spanning a dozen or so HD 3.5" floppy disks each. I also have a SyQuest EZFlyer 230MB SCSI cartridge or two and just got rid of some old IOMega Zip 100 disks from when I had my parallel Zip drive. These are just since 1990 or so for the IBM-compatible platform.

          No doubt many of you have more interesting backups -- that a
        • Don't need to transport HDDs. You just need a big fat fiber-optic connection.

          While I'm as big a fan of rsync as any, if latency isn't a major issue, a van full of tapes is very likely faster and cheaper.

          And for archiving, often on-line storage just isn't practical or otherwise doesn't make sense, so are you going to trust those platters in a box to spin-up after 20 years sitting on a shelf?

          Tapes' domain has vastly shrunk, but it still has a pretty major seat in the world of data.

          It looks like tape is going

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by timeOday ( 582209 )

        for organizations that have large storage requirements you can't get any cheaper than tape

        Are you so sure? Quantum claims that their DLT-V4 tape offers the lowest media cost/GB in its class at just $0.12 []. That's not including the drive, and they are not free. So it's $120/TB just for the media, which is about 30% more than a hard drive. And 1 TB isn't one tape, it's half a dozen of them, so that's fun.

        Now, you could argue it's not fair to consumer hard drives to "enterprise" tape, but that's kind of

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by afidel ( 530433 )
          Uh, I can get LTO4 tapes for $50 and they hold 800GB raw/1.2-1.6TB compressed. They also take zero energy to store data. I've had two tape failures out of the last 4,440 I've put through my library (one was dropped). Compare that to the dozens of drive failures I've had in the same period of time with about 80% fewer drives.
  • by Seth Kriticos ( 1227934 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:42PM (#30863184)

    *The demonstration was performed at product-level tape speeds (2 meters per second) and achieved error rates that are correctable using standard error-correction techniques to meet IBM's performance specification for its LTO Generation 4 products.

    **Note that this calculation assumes a roughly 12% increase in tape length due to the reduced medium thickness.

    ***Note that this has been rounded up from 43.75 times

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jeffmeden ( 135043 )

      You forgot the obligatory:

      The tape can hold 3.5 libraries of congress, with a density of .00036 libraries per square inch.

  • by ircmaxell ( 1117387 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:43PM (#30863198) Homepage
    So what about speed? What good is the ability to store 35TB of data, if it takes you a week to write/read it?
    • 2 meters per second * (around 29.5 billion bits per square inch * meter modifier). go, figure..

      • Well, tapes use a multi-pass write method (At least LTO, which I am familiar with does). The largest generation tape now (LTO5) takes 56 passes (both directions) to write. So it's not a trivial calculation... (I have no idea the number of passes that they use, hence why it's an important factor. They could have increased the tracks per pass, or increased the passes, or both)...
      • They don't say how wide the track of information is... which relieves you of the need to convert from metric to imperial since the comparison is useless anyway!

    • Who cares about a week to read it? I'd be giddy with power if I could destroy the entire Library of Congress in 30 seconds with a bulk eraser.

    • I can only think of baaackuuup...

      never a bad ideea.
    • In most cases whether it took a week to write would be a non-issue. You'd likely be doing a server to server backup on a daily basis and be writing to tape once a week anyway (ie, continuously).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Depends on the number of parallel read/write heads, wasn't in the article ... a quick google shows present tapes take between 25-50 passes to fill a tape at ~7 minutes per pass, god that's slow.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        ... a quick google shows present tapes take between 25-50 passes to fill a tape at ~7 minutes per pass, god that's slow.

        Slow? 35TB, 50 passes, 7 minutes per pass: 1.6GB/s [] (using decimal prefixes of course...)
        I doubt it'll be that fast in practice, but slow it isn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by VMaN ( 164134 )

      35TB in a week? 60MB/sec isn't all that bad.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        This is the first tape hardware that has actually seemed interesting to me as a consumer. Finally, the capacity is large enough that it won't take two tapes just to back up a single off-the-shelf 1TB or 1.5TB hard drive.

        Now if this were available today with the drive costing $300 and the tapes at $20 apiece, it would be the perfect backup medium. Unfortunately, knowing the way the industry works, it will hit the market in 8-10 years, by which time 30 TB hard drives will be routine, and it will cost $2000

        • by afidel ( 530433 )
          LTO4 tapes cost $50 and hold 1.6TB, require zero energy while at rest, are easy to transport, etc. Of course I also have servers at our DR site with full replica's of my production environment, but they do not serve the same purpose at all because the DR servers can fall victim to the same faults and abuses as the production systems while the mounds of offline tapes at my offsite storage are a lot more impervious.
          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            They hold 1.6 TB if the data compresses easily. For many types of data, they hold half that. You can't guarantee that a tape will back up a single hard drive without swapping tapes. At 1.6 TB, they're marginally cheaper than ATA hard drives ($50 for a 1.5 TB internal drive). At .8 TB, they're almost twice as expensive. Both hold the same data. Both get tossed out and replaced when they go bad. When used as part of a backup rotation, both will, statistically speaking, outlast the backup rotation. So

            • by afidel ( 530433 )
              Yeah but there's no 300 slot auto-loader or functional equivalent for HDD's and they wouldn't survive being transported offsite as well. Also $100 [] seems to be the going rate for 1.5TB drives not $50. They also have about 50% less sustained bandwidth (80MB/s vs 120MB/s).
              • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

                Refurb. $50.39 each.


                Regarding the slot loader, because hard drives don't require an expensive tape drive, you don't need such a beast. Assuming you use a series of those open-front FireWire 800 drive trays attached to multiple cards, you can attach at least a couple dozen drives to a computer and address them all at once. This also makes the maximum total sustained bandwidth much greater than that of the tape drive.

              • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

                Regarding transport, that's not particularly hard. You just use a standard foam-lined briefcase. Punch out slots for the drives. Slip the drive into a foil bag, slide the bag into the slot, repeat. Transport the case. Most of us carry hard drives all the time in laptops with far less protection. A drive that is shut down with the head parked is fairly robust.

                • by dbIII ( 701233 )
                  Compared with shoving a pile of tapes in a cardboard box and sticking them in the corner of a shed for thirty years that is particularly hard. I had about six 1600bpi reels from the 1980s transcribed last year with no errors, the year before it was two or three times that. Tapes have improved a lot since then.
    • It's been a while since I did one so I'd better ask: do people still do full backups overnight?
      • by afidel ( 530433 )
        Don't know about other shops but we do ours over the weekend, daily's are differential (not incremental to avoid the loss of restore from a single failed tape, though we've only had 2 in the last 3.5 years and one of those was dropped).
        • Going back to the grandparent poster's question:

          Of those who DON'T do regular tape backups, a lot of them would LOVE to if the tape capacities were higher and cost per bit lower.

          This looks like a case of re-enabling technology.

    • by belrick ( 31159 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:12PM (#30864330)

      If the areal density increases uniformly in both directions, then you can expect that the read/write speed goes up by the square root of the areal density increase. That is, for 43.75 you'd expect a speed increase of at least between 6 and 7 times. Note that sometimes the density increase is achieved in only one direction or the other, depending on what technology was used to achieve it, in which case all or none of the density increase results in speed increase.

      You can achieve speed increases by using multiple heads. LTO and the 3590/3592 proprietary tape technology on which it is based use 8 or 16 tracks read/written simultaneously, with tracks interleaved. There might be 256 tracks with tracks 1, 17, 33, ..., 241 being accessed, then 2, 18, ..., 242. etc. Doubling the number of tracks (density increase of 2 widthwise) wouldn't increase read/write speed. Doubling the number of tracks while simultaneously doubling the number of heads would.

      Note that with 8 or 16 heads spread across the tape width, error correction is achieved by writing a matrix of bits (across the tape as well as down the length) with ECC bits added.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Given that 35 TB/week is about 60 MB/second... that's still pretty useful.

  • And see how many "libraries of congress" you can shift coast to coast (google maps says about 41 hours DC to LA by car)
    • Just fill an envelope with MicroSD cards :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by afidel ( 530433 )
        Storage capacity of this tape ~35,000GB
        LTO tape = 4.15" Height x 0.85" Width x 4.02" Depth or 2,324 mm^3 giving ~15GB/mm^3
        The biggest MicroSD card I could find was 32GB
        Width: 11 mm x Length: 15 mm x Thickness: 1 mm or 165 mm^3 giving 0.194GB/mm^3

        This tape trashes microsd for storage density, heck even LTO4 drives beat microsd by ~50%.
        • There's something wrong there, and not just in the volume.

          Volume of LTO: 231,142.2 mm^3
          Volume of micro sd: 165 mm^3

          Difference: 1,400 : 1.

          So you need LTO tape to exceed 43.7 TB to match that 32 GB MicroSD card. And that's without looking at the upcomming SD-XC standard which will move towards 2 TB.

  • So in other words, 3.6875 GB/ inch^2 We have units for this stuff guys, dunno why we suddenly went back to "billion bits"
    • Hm, I must be doing something wrong, because I went to go see what a standard information density on a HDD platter is, and It looks like 17.57 GB/inch2 and up on modern drives, which is faster than 3.68, not 1 / 39th as the article claims...
    • by mrvan ( 973822 )

      yeah, who would use a unit such as bit when he could also use something like GB?

      And if we're doing the unit thing, what about (centi)meters instead of inches???

  • Tape delay (Score:3, Funny)

    by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:48PM (#30863260)

    I'd tell you what the previous record was for backup tape... but it got archived at the end of my last backup and will take a few hours to get back. Sorry, I'll try harder next time.

  • Are`al
    Of or pertaining to an area; as, areal interstices (the areas or spaces inclosed by the reticulate vessels of leaves).

    Inclose is a word too. Huh.

  • For those of you who are confused by these scary looking Terrorbytes, these tapes would hold about a third of a Library of Congress each.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jeffmeden ( 135043 )

      For those of you who are confused by these scary looking Terrorbytes, these tapes would hold about a third of a Library of Congress each.

      I think you meant to say one third of the tape would hold a Library of Congress... 35TB on the tape and a LoC is 10TB, or 20TB by some estimates. So between 1.75 LoC and 3.5 LoC will fit on a single tape.

  • Oh boy! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @04:53PM (#30863324)
    Now governments and big corporations can misplace even *more* data!

    "The Library of Congress burned down? No worries chief! I got the whole thing backed up on the tape right here in my desk. (opens and closes drawers) Right here.. in.. my... oh shizzle."
  • by seven of five ( 578993 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:02PM (#30863440)
    Joe's Pizza Delivery and Data Courier Co loses the personal health and financial records of every human being on earth.
  • finally a magnetic tape that will allow me to record blu-ray movies on my VHS cassettes with full 1080p.

  • "29.5 billion bits per square inch"

    I'm sorry, what?

    Could we have this in libraries of congress per furlong?

    • Given that there are 7920 inches in a furlong, and .00036 LoCs in an inch of tape, we know that the tape's density is 2.8 LoC/inch-furlongs or 22,000 LoC/Sq. Furlong

    • by KlomDark ( 6370 )

      Edward's at the library again?

  • Finally (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Oh boy! Finally a media that can hold my porn collection.
  • Too bad IBM don't make hard disk drives anymore...
  • Stupid Units (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @05:56PM (#30864106) Homepage Journal

    Why bother explaining how many miles of bookshelves would be needed to hold some amount of digital data? We don't explain how long a bookshelf would have to be to hold all the data in an HDTV screenful, and 35TB data tapes are probably going to hold more graphics than text. Besides, how big is the type in the books filling that shelf? And who but a librarian is going to relate to miles of bookshelves as a meaningful comparison, anyway?

    Why don't they say "a 35TB tape is enough to hold 5 million full CDs, or 7,778 full DVDs? That's a comparison that people could actually relate to, that is actually factual, and isn't just some kind of primitive awe at how efficient we've become now that we store data on something not made of mashed trees.

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )
      You never worked with VAX documentation did you? That stuff demanded measurements in bookshelf lengths.
      • Actually I did, when I used to program the GIGI and VMS in DCL.

        All the DEC docs might fit on the first few cm of these new IBM tapes. But since there's no call to read them, the bookshelves make for better trophy cases. "In the trophy case is an ancient parchment which appears to be a map."

    • I'm sorry, I'm just not getting it. Can I get a car analogy please?
  • huh? Weird metrics... Why not just tell us it's about 3.5 LoC ?
  • Almost enough to hold Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time."
  • by Zugok ( 17194 ) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:48PM (#30865160)

    As Linus has said before 'Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it'

    • Exactly. Having all your "tapes in one basket" is not good for DR planning. Large-scale distributed networks help, you just have to make sure NOT to tie them all into one another (and end up replicating a "delete" too quickly for instance).

      In our company, we take a multilayered approach, basically we sync data from multiple servers to an offsite server, which then goes to a daily tape. The tapes are taken out of the building each day and returned 3 weeks later to be reused. Monthly DVD's of critical system
  • About 545.09 MB/cm^2.

    Doesn’t sound that great now, compared to a hard disk, does it?

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.