This Tiny Magnetic Tape Can Store Record-Breaking 330TB of Uncompressed Data

August 2, 2017

IBM researchers and Sony have successfully developed a sputtered magnetic tape prototype technology that can potentially store 330 terabytes of uncompressed data into a small cartridge package. This record-breaking storage capacity technology is foreseen to continue reducing its size in the generations to come.

Innovating the magnetic tape storage technology

IBM researchers, in collaboration with Sony Storage Media Solutions, have developed a prototype sputtered magnetic tape storage technology that can store 201 gigabits per square inch of data. This allowed the IBM researchers to pack 330 terabytes of uncompressed data into a cartridge that can fit into the palm of your hands. The storage capacity breakthrough is considerably notable compared to conventional technology which can only pack 15 TB per data cartridge.

The record aerial density of 201 gigabits per square inch was achieved using Sony’s new magnetic tape technology that uses lubricant. IBM played a role in creating the prototype by incorporating their newly developed write and read heads, advanced servo control technologies, and innovative signal-processing algorithms.

[Image Source: IBM Research/YouTube]

IBM’s first tape drive, the IBM 726 tape unit created in 1952, was capable of storing data at 6.1 kB/s at an aerial density of 1,400 bit per square inch. And after more than 60 years of innovating this field, IBM continues to push the research and development boundaries of their tape storage technology. This new world record in tape storage is IBM’s fifth record title since 2006.

According to Evangelos Eleftheriou, an IBM Fellow at the Zurich laboratory in Switzerland, the development of the sputtered magnetic tape technology will lead to a more practical cloud storage solution in the future.

“Tape has traditionally been used for video archives, backup files, replicas for disaster recovery and retention of information on premise, but the industry is also expanding to off-premise applications in the cloud. While sputtered tape is expected to cost a little more to manufacture than current commercial tape, the potential for very high capacity will make the cost per terabyte very attractive, making this technology practical for cold storage in the cloud”.

How exactly does it work?

“Sputtered tape uses several layers of thin metal films that are coated onto the tape using vacuum sputter technology”, explained Dr. Mark Lantz, the IBM research scientist working on the magnetic tape technology. “That’s similar technology used for manufacturing integrated circuits”, he added.

To be able to achieve the high-density recording feature of the tape storage media, the spacing or gap between the magnetic tape and magnetic head must be closed. However, reducing the space between the materials results into increasing friction at contact points between the surface of the tape and the magnetic head. This friction had to be lessened and ensure that the tape surface smoothly runs along the magnetic head to allow for high-capacity writing and reading at a relatively fast speed.

In order to lessen the layer friction, Sony developed a lubricant that was applied between the tape surface and magnetic head. Not only did the lubricant reduces the layer friction, it also creates a highly durable bond between the lubricant and the magnetic layer of the tape.

Magnetic tape technology

[Image Source: Sony]

Lantz expressed that this recent development in the sputtered magnetic technology can continue to be record-breaking in the generations to come.

“This really demonstrates the potential to continue scaling tape technology basically at historical rates of doubling the cartridge capacity every two years for at least the next 10 years. That’s really good news for our customers that could rely on tape technology. It’s kind of an integral part of their storage infrastructure to really preserve their data in a cost-effective manner”.

Sources: Sony, IBM

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