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In new LTO roadmap, LTO-9 features 45 TB capacity

Long-term archiving and offline data protection are two key uses for LTO-9, the latest generation of tapes from the LTO Program. The roadmap extends to LTO-12.

LTO-9 will hit the market by early next year with a compressed capacity of 45 TB per tape.

The LTO Program Technology Provider Companies -- Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), IBM and Quantum -- released the specifications this month, along with a new roadmap that adjusts capacities of future generations. The LTO-9 capacity marks a 50% increase over LTO-8, less than the intended doubling of capacity on the previous roadmap.

Market 'ready for more capacity'

LTO-9 features 18 TB native capacity.

"We are seeing growth in storage needs for all markets," said Laura Loredo, worldwide product manager at HPE.

Any organization that produces a lot of data and needs to archive it long-term is a potential candidate for LTO-9, said Diana Salazar, product marketing manager at Quantum.

"Tape can scale exponentially," Salazar said.

Active archive is a good use for LTO-9, according to Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

The market is always ready for more capacity.
Vinny ChoinskiSenior lab analyst, ESG

"That's such a high number," Bertrand said of the 45 TB compressed capacity.

It was intended to be even higher. For 20 years, LTO media has approximately doubled in capacity typically every two to three years. In order to meet that two- to three-year development time frame, the LTO Program decided to reduce the capacity and meet market needs, as it would have taken longer to get to the originally planned 24 TB native, Loredo said. The roadmap also called for 60 TB compressed capacity in LTO-9.

LTO-8 features 12 TB native capacity and 30 TB compressed.

ESG research shows that data growth is a major challenge, said Vinny Choinski, senior lab analyst at the firm.

"The market is always ready for more capacity," Choinski said. "Any time you can get more capacity at a cheap cost, people are ready for it."

Error, transfer rates set to improve

LTO-9 also includes features from previous generations, such as multi-layer security support through hardware-based encryption, write-once read-many functionality and support for the Linear Tape File System. LTO-9 contains full backward read and write compatibility with LTO-8 cartridges. 

In addition, the non-recoverable error rate is increasing from 10^19 to 10^20, according to the LTO Program.

Transfer rates have not been set yet, but the LTO Program is expecting a 10% improvement on LTO-8's native rate of 360 MB per second, said Carlos Sandoval Castro, worldwide tape offering manager at IBM.

Speeds and feeds are fast when tape is streaming, Choinski said.

"You can do very similar things with tape that you can do with disk, and I think people are starting to realize that," he said.

All LTO-9 tape drives with SAS interface will have a dual-port 12 Gb per second interface, instead of the 6 Gb per second with LTO-8 and earlier generations, according to the LTO Program.

Vendors have started to reveal plans for LTO-9 drives. Quantum, for example, said LTO-9 will be available in its Scalar i6 and Scalar i6000 tape libraries, as well as its StorNext AEL archive systems, beginning in December. Quantum was set to begin taking orders for LTO-9 technology this month.

Pricing is vendor-specific, Loredo said. The LTO Program expects general availability of LTO-9 cartridges at the end of 2020 or in early 2021. 

The long and winding roadmap

Future generations are again slated to double in capacity. The roadmap stretches out to LTO-12, with a projected native capacity of up to 144 TB and 360 TB compressed.

Choinski said the defined roadmap is comforting to customers.

"They keep improving throughput and capacity," Choinski said. "Most customers are pretty comfortable moving to the next generation without worrying about a big problem."

Chart of LTO Program's roadmap
The LTO Program's roadmap

When the new generation launches, older editions continue to sell.

"A smaller business with less capacity needs will remain in earlier generations," Loredo said.

In reaching out to organizations -- some of whom may have dropped tape -- the LTO Program will highlight features such as its inherently offline nature, Salazar said. With cyberthreats such as ransomware lurking, especially at a time of heightened remote work and potential gaps in cybersecurity, offline data protection is important.

"Tape is back on the scene," Salazar said.

Choinski said he heard 10 years ago that tape was "dead."

"Like mainframe, it doesn't seem to die," Bertrand said. "Tape is finding new life here."

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