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Research May Prolong Tape’s Life for 10 Years.

by on February 16, 2010

Tape_tombstoneJust when the doom buglers are ready to blow taps for tape as an archival medium (once again), researchers seem to find a way to prolong the life of it. Some recent news from IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratories in Switzerland is a case in point. Researchers there have developed a new material that can store 29.5 billion bits of data per inch of tape. That kind of density would increase the capacity of a typical tape cartridge to 35 terabytes, or 40 times the capacity of current carts.

According to an article appearing in MIT’s Technology Review, the new medium stores information in barium ferrite particles. The particles can be stored vertically instead of horizontally, which allows more bits of information to be stored in the same space used by other technologies. Moreover, the arrangement increases the strength of the particles’ magnetic fields. The technology also allows a tape’s thickness to be reduced so about 12 percent more tape can be added to a cartridge.

The problem with increasing tape density is that it makes the tapes more difficult to read. Electromagnetic interference becomes a problem, as well as the build up of residual magnetism on the heads of a tape drive each time the tape is read. Big Blue’s scientists addressed that issue, too. They’ve created a reader that uses new algorithms that can process data while predicting the effect of electromagnetic interference on subsequent readings of the tape.

While hard disks can pack more data on a given surface area than tape, more tape can be stored in less space than a disk, so by volume tape has greater density than disks. That makes tape an extremely inexpensive storage medium–less than a cent per gigabyte compared to $3-$20 per gigabyte for disk.

The new IBM technology isn’t expected to reach the mainstream market for five years, but predictions are it could extend tape’s lifespan for another 10 years.

  1. While tape’s future density may be vast, what combination of tape/drive will cost less than a cent per GB–especially when the consumer market favors disk? Also, current tape’s bottleneck is throughput, not density. What backup speeds are we talking about?

  2. Although the consumer shift is towards disk (and should be) for short term data, the cost and footprint of magnetic media still proves to be the best storage device for archived information. Throughput becomes less of an issue when using an HSM/ILM strategy that moves data from D2T, or D2D2T since the transfer is usually done off of a SAN. Addressing the cost issue, you can’t include the tape drive unless you want to include the cost of the server that manages the disk activity. Most cost/gig comparisons are done with the cost of the tape v. the cost of the disk. Also don’t forget to include square footage costs, electricity, and management of the server if you are tallying a true cost to own figure. You’ll soon notice that for archived data the dollar amount weighs heavily in favor of tape.

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