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Is tape making a come-back? IBM sets new record for magnetic tape storage

IBM Research scientists have achieved a new world record in tape storage – their fifth since 2006. The new record of 201 gigabits per square inch in areal density was achieved on a prototype sputtered magnetic tape developed by Sony Storage Media Solutions. The scientists presented the achievement at the 28th Magnetic Recording Conference (TMRC 2017).

This new record areal recording density is more than 20 times the areal density used in current state of the art commercial tape drives and it enables the potential to record up to about 330 terabytes (TB) of uncompressed data* on a single tape cartridge that would fit in the palm of your hand. 330 terabytes of data are comparable to the text of 330 million books, which would fill a bookshelf that stretches slightly beyond the northeastern to the southwestern most tips of Japan.

"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," said 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.

* Assuming the same format overheads as the TS1155 format and taking into account the 6.4% increase in tape length enabled by the thinner demo tape. A TS1155 JD cartridge, can hold 15 TB of uncompressed data in a 4.29 in. x 4.92 in. x 0.96 in. (109.0 mm x 125 mm x 24.5 mm) form factor

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