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The future of tape looks: super fine.

Tape technology is advancing at a blazing speed, from newly developed super-fine magnetic particles allowing for greater data density to drives and library systems that can store more data, faster and cheaper. In addition to continuous innovation, tape has certain features and benefits unmatched by any other storage method--especially when it comes to true mass data storage, backup, disaster recovery and archival applications.

The demand for data storage continues to grow exponentially due to 4x7x365 business operations, e-commerce, e-mail, the Internet, and the emergent new data storage markets such as the broadcast and entertainment industry. We used to measure data in terms of kilobytes and megabytes; now gigabytes and terabytes are the terms commonly discussed.

Computer data today has not only increased in volume but also in its value to the critical success and very survival of the organizational entity. The loss of data--be it mission critical or archival, or the inability to restore or recover lost data--can be a disaster for a business of any size. Lessons learned from Y2K have forced the storage industry to employ new storage methods and to improve upon existing ones, as well.

One of the new methods may not be truly new, but certainly the use of hard disk arrays as a primary back-up solution makes sense given the urgent need to rapidly restore downed servers. Data mirroring from disk-to-disk can allow for minimum down time of seconds compared to minutes or hours when restoring from tape. In many instances, this level of business continuity may not be required, so one size does not fit all. Since disk space and floor space is finite, a sense of hierarchical storage management comes into play to determine which data sets get backed-up to redundant disk arrays and which to tape libraries.

At the risk of oversimplification, "business continuity" is about maintaining access to databases and avoiding end-user interruptions. True disaster recovery is a little bit different. Suppose files are accidentally deleted or corrupted: Will they still be there on the mirrored arrays? Suppose disaster as common as a fire or earthquake wipes out both primary and secondary disk arrays and the tape library, too? That would be a real disaster calling for a duplicate tape copy safely stored off site in a data vault. Data vaults are the best way to safeguard data and, since tape is removable and its capacity infinite, tape is ultimately the best way to safeguard and properly archive data.

Given the insatiable demand for data storage, the feature of capacity and cost are major issues that must be addressed by tape technologies. Because time is money, performance--in terms of transfer rates--is important too. Tape technologies have made tremendous gains in these areas but also have impressive roadmaps into the future. Key enabling technologies are under development now that will ensure the dominance of tape in terms of capacity and cost per gigabyte.

Cost of Tape vs. Disk

The study of cost per megabyte or gigabyte using disk or tape is complicated by numerous sets of variables, many of which can be unique to an individual end user. It is certainly true that the cost of hard disk technologies has come down rapidly in recent years. This price erosion is precisely what has opened the door to hard disk in expanding back-up roles. But detailed, published studies by well-respected industry experts (see "The Straight Skinny on Disk vs. tape Pricing" by Fred Moore, Computer Technology Review, Nov. 2002) have shown that the cost of tape is currently less expensive than disk and it becomes increasingly less expensive sire as the cartridge-to-drive ratio increases. So once an initial investment is made in a tape library and drives, the cost of adding incremental storage in the form of additional media is less than acquiring new disk capacity. This economic fact is especially important ha capacity-intensive applications like e-mail archiving, for example.

Tape technologies continue to flourish and promise to offer more value to the end user for many years to come. Many vendors are involved in bringing innovative drive, library, media and software solutions that address the needs of small organizations through mid-range and large enterprise class entities. The new higher capacity tape cartridges not only deliver greater capacity, performance, reliability and cost, but they also reduce the number of tapes handled and the physical storage requirements after recording. The following is a quick glance at some of the exciting developments in the key technologies.


The future of tape was certainly brightened by the recent news that HP and Certance (formerly Seagate) would provide for an extension to the DDS 1, 2, 3 and 4 product lines by offering a fifth-generation dubbed DAT 72. DAT 72 is a 36.0GB native capacity cartridge in a 3.5-inch form factor with a 4.0mm-wide tape, and a transfer rate of 3.5MB/sec. DAT 72 represents an 80% increase in capacity compared to DDS 4 and is read/write compatible with DDS 3 and DDS 4. The DDS market has long been the domain of small and price-sensitive businesses, typically in a DAS application. There are more DDS drives installed than any other tape technology (more than 7 million) and competing technologies have been battling to inherit this market. But thanks to its remarkable durability, reliability, and affordable cost of media and hardware, DDS users have been reluctant to switch.


Super DLTtape (SDLT) is the latest generation of half-inch DLTtape mid-range technologies with drives manufactured by Quantum and Tandberg. Super DLTtape 1 features a native capacity of 160GB with a transfer rate of 16MB/sec. Super DLTtape 2, due in late 2003, will feature a capacity of 300GB native and a transfer rate of 32 MB/sec. Super DLTtape 3, due in 2005, will feature a 600GB native capacity with a transfer rate of up to 80MB/sec. Finally, Super DLTtape 4, expected in 2007, will feature an amazing 1.2 terabyte (TB) of capacity on a single cartridge with a blazing transfer rate of 100+ MB/sec. The tape features a unique optical servo track on the backside of the media to control head-to-head track interface.


Linear Tape-Open (LTO) is a non-proprietary or "open" half-inch mid-range tape format that was jointly developed in 2000 by a consortium of three drive vendors: IBM, HP and Seagate (now Certance). Several media vendors have joined the LTO consortium in support of Ultrium 1 media, 100GB native capacity with a 20 MB/sec transfer rate and, most recently, Ultrium 2 media with a 200GB native capacity and 40MB/sec transfer rate. The LTO roadmap calls for LTO 3 with a native capacity of 400GB and 80MB/sec transfer rate and then LTO 4 with 800GB native capacity with a transfer rate of 160MB/sec. LTO cartridge technology includes cartridge memory in the form of an embedded Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory (EEPROM) module that stores cartridge ID, usage history and metadata in a non-volatile memory chip with a non-contact passive radio frequency (RF) interface. LTO Ultrium tape features a factory-written servo track to ensure proper read/write head and data track alignment, thus ensuring data accuracy despite greatly increased track densities.

StorageTek T9940B

The T9940B is the latest version of half-inch enterprise class tape storage from StorageTek. The 9940 delivers 30MB/sec transfer rates and capacity of 200GB native per cartridge. The StorageTek T9940B also features a proprietary WORM (write once read many) technology called VolSafe. This feature allows for tape storage of legally sensitive data and meets the non-erasable and non-rewritable requirements of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

IBM 3590

The latest version of IBM's enterprise class half-inch tape, 3590 model H, features native capacity of 60GB with transfer rates of 14MB/sec, representing a 50% increase over previous versions. The 3590 also uses pro-recorded servo tracks for precise head positioning. On May 13, 2002, IBM announced that it had recorded 1TB &data to a linear digital tape cartridge with the same dimensions as today's 3590 cartridge (4"x 5"x 1"). The roadmap to the 1TB cartridge calls for the release of a family of enterprise class tape drives supporting cartridge capacities from 200GB up to I TB within a few short years. The ability to store 1TB on a conventional tape cartridge is made possible by many IBM recording innovations and super-fine metal particle media developed by Fujifilm, and known as NANO CUBIC technology.

Fujifilm's NANO CUBIC

New tape coating formulations had to be developed in order to achieve the aggressive technology roadmaps detailed above, especially as capacities greater than 500GB are to be realized. One such technology has been developed by Fujifilm and is referred to as NANO CUBIC technology.

Fujifilm's NANO CUBIC technology is a new advanced precision coating process that can control the thickness of the magnetic layer on a nanometer scale. This is crucial in the employment of microscopic magnetic particles that must be uniformly coated in order to achieve proper signal-to-noise ratio and the bit densities required for high capacity recording. NANO CUBIC dispersion technology uses a special organic binder material that has the ability to thoroughly disperse the particles in the coating solution so that a uniformly packed magnetic layer is realized. NANO CUBIC technology employs two types of super-fine magnetic particles, both tens of nanometers in scale: Acicular Ferromagnetic Alloy and Tabular Ferromagnetic Hexagonal Barium Ferrite, NANO CUBIC promises to be the enabling coating technology that will lead to the achievement of the super tape capacities of future mid-range and enterprise class formats.

There is no doubt that tape will continue to play a vital role in data storage. The cost-per-gigabyte associated with tape is less than hard disk. Tape also retains the critical advantages of scalability to meet the ever-increasing demand lot storage and removability for off-line storage, meeting the needs of tree disaster recovery.

Rich Gadomski is director of Product Management, Computer Products Division, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A, Inc. (Valhalla, N.Y.)
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Title Annotation:Tape/Disk/Optical Storage
Author:Gadomski, Rich
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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