As 60th anniversary nears, tape reinvents itself

Streaming media, the cloud and Big Data will play important roles in tape's future.

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In comparison, Seagate recently announced it had achieved a density of 1 terabit (1 trillion bits) per square inch on a disk drive platter. That breakthrough should lead to 20TB laptop drives within the decade.

The Ultrium LTO tape drive road map.

LTFS and LTO-5

Today, two major advances -- LT0-5 and the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) -- are allowing tape to handle new applications, such as cloud storage, Big Data and streaming media.

"A lot of people joke that you don't hear the words tape and excitement in the same sentence, but LTFS is one reason you do now," said Truskowski. "The point is, archive data is becoming more important to clients, as is the ability to keep that data in a near-line environment."

The LTFS specification and file system was released in 2010. It's supported by major tape vendors, including IBM, HP, Quantum and Oracle, as well as the LTO Consortium. Oracle has integrated its T10KC enterprise tape drives with LTFS.

The LTO-5 format was introduced in 2010. It offers 1.5TB of uncompressed data (3TB compressed) and, when combined with LTFS, allows users to access files on tape drives as easily as if they were on a USB flash drive or an external hard disk drive.

LTO-5, like every Linear Tape Open generation before it, offers twice the capacity and double the data transfer rates of its predecessor. LTO-5 tape drives can stream data at up to 140MB/sec. native and 280MB/sec. compressed. And, with LTO-6 due out in this year, those data rates will be moving to a maximum of 525MB/sec. and the capacity point to 8TB.

An LTO-5 tape drive is smaller than a breadbox. Each tape holds up to 3TB of data.

Like LTO-4, LTO-5 offers AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption, and write once, read many (WORM) functionality. Unlike its predecessor, LTO-5 offers dual partitioning for faster data access and improved data management.

LTFS itself is a file system with a POSIX interface that applications such as File Explorer can access. A user can then add a network-attached storage stack (e.g. NFS and/or CIFS) on top of LTFS, allowing seamless access to files from any desktop. LTFS is enabled by the dual partitioning capability of LTO-5.

For example, Partition 0 would hold the tape's content index, which can be more quickly accessed. The second partition, Partition 1, holds the content of the tape.

The partitions allow users to view that data without having to read through an entire tape. Once the desired data is located in the index, a simple copy command can be used to move the data from the tape to, for instance, a disk drive.

"At the end of the day, the benefits are that you have the ability to store data on a tape cartridge and you can retrieve that data without any unique host system software or application," said Robert Amatruda, an IDC analyst specializing in data protection and recovery.

Film and broadcast industries love LTFS

Mark Lemmons, CTO of Thought Equity Motion, said that when television broadcasters and motion picture companies went to disk storage from standardized video tape for media, they lost seamless, global interoperability with no overhead.

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