Tape storage remains competitive: The new roadmap introduces LTO14. The cartridge should convince with a capacity of up to 1.4 petabytes.
According to a new roadmap, LTO14 should increase the storage capacity of a magnetic tape cartridge to 1,440 terabytes (compressed). This is a factor of 32 compared to the current LTO9 generation, which was released in September 2021 and offers 45 TB of compressed capacity. There is no information yet on the targeted data rates.
The new roadmap, backed by the technology providers HPE, IBM and Quantum, envisages doubling the capacity of the LTO/Ultrium standard with each new generation. It now extends two generations beyond the previous roadmap, which ended with 12-generation Ultrium tapes and 360TB of compressed capacity. The reason for this was the upcoming change in the magnetizable strip coating from the currently used barium ferrite (BaFe) to strontium ferrite (SrFe), which enables higher storage densities. Apparently, the prototypes of a magnetic tape coated with SrFe particles and an IBM drive developed by Fujifilm have meanwhile delivered such promising results that the technology change seems manageable. SrFe is to be used from LTO13 and already achieved an areal density of 317 Gbit/in2 (gigabit per square inch) in tests at the end of 2020; this is approximately 27 times the areal density of current commercial tape drives.
Doubts after LTO9
In addition, the LTO consortium wants to dispel any doubts that the storage capacity of magnetic tapes can keep up with disk and SSD capacities in the long term. These doubts arose when the expected LTO9 capacity was reduced from 24 TB (compressed 60 TB) to 18 TB (compressed 45 TB) in 2020 – and the question arose as to whether the previous doubling of storage capacity could be sustained with each generation.
So far, the roadmap ended with the LTO generation 12 – before the switch to the SrFe coating. With the announcement of two more generations, planning now extends to the mid-2030s. Because if the traditional interval of two to three years between generations is maintained – and if the LTO10 drive currently in development ships in 2023/2024 – then LTO14- would possibly be ten years later, i.e. in the period 2033/2034.
Goal: cheap for critical data
Sam Werner, IBM’s Vice President for Management of Storage Products, on the new roadmap: “With the specifications now defined up to the 14th generation, the LTO tape is able to support the rapid and accelerated data growth. It offers companies a sustainable, reliable and cost-effective solution to protect and store their critical business data.” He assumes a price of less than 1 US cent per gigabyte on an Ultrium9 tape.
The LTO consortium first published its LTO/Ultrium standard in 2000, at that time with a capacity of 200 GB per compressed cartridge. Two decades later, the LTO generation 9 came onto the market, which supported a compressed storage capacity of up to 45 TB and data transfer rates of up to 400 (compressed 1,000) Mbytes/second for tape drives.