How Sony's New Tape Storage Technology Will Revolutionize Data Centers

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC

Remember those golden days of giant floppy disks? No? Well, us old-timers do - we used to have to walk two hours in the snow to go to the local proprietors' shop to purchase them so we could play cutting-edge games like a Pong emulator. Younger generations that work in the data storage arena may not have that same nostalgic feeling about floppy disks as I do, but they may well feel that way soon with regard to their current magnetic tape storage, as Sony has recently unveiled a new storage technology that promises to change the way data centers store information.

Current Magnetic Tape Storage

The current generation of magnetic tape storage is known as Linear Tape-Open (LTO-6 for short) and can store upwards of 2.5 TB. Magnetic tape itself has been around for more than 50 years, getting a boost from rivals (at the time) IBM and DEC, who used it for their lines of mainframe products.

The first version of Linear Tape-Open, LTO-1, was officially released in the year 2000 and had - at the time - a mind-boggling 100 GB of storage capacity. Between 2003 and 2010, versions LTO-2 through LTO-5 would see the light of day, increasing the storage to 1.5 TB and data transfers from 20 MB/s to 140 MB/s. Then, in mid-2012, LTO-6 was released, bumping storage to the aforementioned 2.5 TB with a data transfer rate of 160 MB/s.

If you are interested in the history of magnetic tapes - or storage technology in general - the Computer History Museum has a great page with some cool images and information on magnetic tapes.

The Next Evolution of Tape Storage

Sony hopes to be the next company to raise the bar in storage technology, banking on data centers to flock to its new technology that they dub "sputter deposition," which involves firing ions at a polymer film substrate to create fine layers of magnetic particles. Science!

This all results in the possibly of cartridges capable of holding almost 75 times more data than current tape technology. For you math flunkies out there, we are talking 185 TB - that's a lot of Flo Rida songs.

Whether this new technology will stick in the market place is not clear, and the industry certainly has its doubters, as is the case in this article on TechNewsWorld that talks about Sony's previous forays into the storage technology arena.

There is also debate about whether tape storage is better than hard disk drives from a backup standpoint, and you can see a comparison of the two media in this article discussing the future of backup storage.

One way or the other, Sony seems to plan on marching full-steam ahead, though the company admits that they do not have a time frame for when their new tape storage could hit the market, much less become viable from a commercial perspective.

Sony presented their new tech (alongside IBM, which helped verify the density of the tape) at the IEEE International Magnetics Conference (Intermag Europe) in Germany on May 4, 2014.

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