A revolution in data storage: 330 TB in the palm of your hand

By Rose de Fremery

Data storage has come a long way since its inception. Back in the 1950s, a magnetic tape unit would span the size of a refrigerator, but it could only hold 2 MB of data. In the home computing era, consumers regularly used 5.25-inch floppy disks to store their term papers and back up other important documents. Then came CDs, USB flash drives and the cloud.

And now, IBM has released a next-generation magnetic tape cartridge that can store a whopping 330 TB of data.

A magnetic tape cartridge that stores 330 TB of data

At the 28th Magnetic Recording Conference in Tsukuba, Japan, IBM announced that in partnership with Sony Storage Media Solutions, it has invented a magnetic tape cartridge capable of storing 330 TB of uncompressed data. This is a new world record in tape storage, representing the fifth time IBM has achieved this honor. This innovation offers a great leap forward for businesses that are required to store large quantities of data — an incredibly urgent imperative given the explosion of big data in the Information Age.

How much capacity does the new 330 TB tape offer? In short, 20 times as much as the current commercial tapes in a unit that’s half their size. This cartridge can hold 330 million books, all in a compact unit that fits in the palm of your hand. As Ars Technica reports, it’s capable of storing 201 gigabits of data per square inch. Using a method called sputter disposition, which adds layers to increase the storage density of a material, Sony created a new type of tape with a higher density of magnetic recording sites.

Magnetic tape storage relies on a smooth read-write process as well as accurate signal processing. Accordingly, the 330 TB cartridge uses a lubricant to stream throughout the cartridge, alleviating the friction and air resistance that commonly cause problems with recording and playback. IBM Research developed a new 48nm-wide tunneling magneto-resistive head, a next generation servo that guides the tape through the cartridge with precision, and a signal processing algorithm that efficiently reads and extracts data.

The business value of magnetic tape for data storage

Although there are multiple varieties of data storage from which to choose these days, magnetic tape storage is one of the more popular solutions available. Traditionally used to archive video, back up files, create disaster recovery backups for business continuity and retain information on-premises, magnetic tape is now being increasingly tapped for off-premises storage in the cloud as well, particularly in big data and cloud computing scenarios. Tape is especially valuable because it allows businesses to store vast amounts of backup and archival data in a secure, efficient way.

Magnetic tape is also one of the more affordable options on the market. Though the sputtered tape used in the new 330 TB cartridge might cost a bit more to produce than the current commercial tape, which uses Barium Ferrite, its high capacity will still deliver an attractive cost per TB of storage. Thus, the new data storage technology is expected to work quite well for cold storage in the cloud. For businesses with expanding storage needs, this new magnetic tape could offer exactly the kind of robust capacity now required — especially for big data analytics or cloud computing purposes.

A bold new future for enterprise storage

Although there’s no release date for the new 330 TB magnetic tape cartridge yet, it’s expected to have a strong impact on the data storage market upon its arrival, likely bringing down costs and making storage options more affordable than they previously were. Businesses could apply this tool to a number of critical scenarios, from cloud storage to essential backups, as well as using it to archive infrequently accessed data.

Though the arrival of the 330 TB cartridge can be viewed as simply an exciting development in the market, it also signals an evolutionary advancement in magnetic tape technology. As EnterpriseTech notes, this breakthrough achievement will likely herald further advancements in the future, doubling existing storage capacity every two years for at least the next decade. This new magnetic tape cartridge is continuing a proud 60-year tradition of innovation in the enterprise data storage space.

Written By

Rose de Fremery


Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer. She currently covers business IT topics such as technology innovation, mobile strategy, unified communications, CRM and marketing automation, IT management, and the virtual workforce for HP, Intel, Vonage, and IBM Mobile Business Insights.…

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