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The renaissance of magnetic tape storage: IBM Research sets new world record

09 Aug 2017

IBM Research scientists have achieved a new world record in tape storage.

The new record of 201 billion bits per square inch in areal density was achieved on a prototype sputtered magnetic tape developed by Sony Storage Media Solutions.

IBM’s partnership with Sony Storage Media Solutions spans several years and has been focused on enabling increased areal recording densities.

IBM claims the results of this collaboration have led to various improvements in the media technology, such as advanced roll-to-roll technology for long sputtered tape fabrication and better lubricant technology, which stabilizes the functionality of the magnetic tape.

According to IBM, tape storage is currently the most secure, energy efficient and cost-effective solution for storing large amounts of back-up and archival data, as well as for new applications such as Big Data and cloud computing.

The areal recording density is more than 20 times the areal density used in current state of the art commercial tape drives such as the IBM TS1155 enterprise tape drive.

The tape has the potential to record up to about 330 terabytes (TB) of uncompressed data on a single tape cartridge.

"Tape has traditionally been used for video archives, back-up files, replicas for disaster recovery and retention of information on premise, but the industry is also expanding to off-premise applications in the cloud," says IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou.

"While sputtered tape is expected to cost a little more to manufacture than current commercial tape that uses Barium ferrite (BaFe), the potential for very high capacity will make the cost per TB very attractive, making this technology practical for cold storage in the cloud."

To achieve 201 billion bits per square inch, IBM researchers developed several new technologies, including:

  • Innovative signal-processing algorithms for the data channel, based on noise-predictive detection principles, which enable reliable operation at a linear density of 818,000 bits per inch with an ultra-narrow 48nm wide tunneling magneto-resistive (TMR) reader.
  • A set of advanced servo control technologies that when combined enable head positioning with an accuracy of better than 7 nanometers. This combined with a 48nm wide (TMR) hard disk drive read head enables a track density of 246,200 tracks per inch, a 13-fold increase over a state of the art TS1155 drive.
  • A novel low friction tape head technology that permits the use of very smooth tape media

With its first commercial tape product, the 726 Magnetic Tape Unite, released more than 60 years ago, IBM has a long history rooted in magnetic tape data storage development.

IBM Research has labs located around the world. In South Africa, the organisation has a branch in Johannesburg, as well as a branch in Kenya, Africa.

Other IBM research locations include Melbourne, Australia, Beijing and Shanghai in China and Tokyo and Shin-kawasaki, Japan.

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