The new technologies won’t come out in products for several years and may not be quite as extreme when they do, but the advances show tape can keep getting more dense into the future, said Mark Lantz, manager of IBM’s Advanced Tape Technologies Group.
Tape is already the least expensive storage medium per bit, easily beating spinning hard disks or solid-state drives. The trade-off is slower retrieval time—about a minute—but this makes tape perfect for archiving large amounts of infrequently used data, Lantz said. IBM thinks it’s perfect for cloud storage and is working on other advances toward that end, such as an object-storage interface. The interface could make tape systems work with cloud object storage systems such as OpenStack Swift, IBM says.
But the core advantages of tape all come back to density, and the technology IBM is demonstrating this week at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas boosts this in several ways. The tracks on the tape are narrower, the heads are smaller, and even the particles of barium ferrite that store each bit are finer. All are now measured in nanometers, so the movement of the heads has to be more precise, too. It’s accurate to within less than 6 nanometers, IBM says.
The density of tape storage doubles about every two years, and that’s likely to continue over the next decade, Lantz said. But innovations take a while to get from labs to enterprises. For example, tape technologies IBM developed in 2007 are hitting the market only now. It’s likely the latest prototypes will take about as long, counting both development and product design, he said.