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LTO Program looks to surpass 1.4 PB per tape

The LTO Program laid out an updated roadmap showing that tape could break the 1 petabyte barrier within the next decade, keeping pace with ever-growing data storage needs.

The Linear Tape Open Program has added a 1.4 petabyte tape to its roadmap -- a goal it believes it will reach in about 10 years.

The LTO Program, which includes representatives from IBM, HPE and Quantum Corp., has developed a plan for the LTO Ultrium format for 14 generations, doubling in capacity with each new generation. LTO-14 will deliver a compressed capacity of 1.44 PB and an uncompressed or native capacity of 576 TB per tape cartridge.

The additional archiving capacity reflects the continued data growth for companies. Vinny Choinski and Christophe Bertrand, analysts from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), estimate that global data storage needs will exceed 17 zettabytes by 2025. Customers are seeing an average of 35% to 40% growth rate for data storage every year, according to Choinski.

"Data is growing by leaps and bounds, and it is going to be a challenge to store it efficiently," Choinski said.

LTO-14, on the horizon

LTO-14 is already in the works.

In 2020, IBM and Fujifilm demonstrated the technology, which provided an areal density of 317 gigabits per square inch of tape media, according to Carlos Sandoval, offering manager of data retention infrastructures at IBM.

Currently, LTO-9 is the latest available generation, and historically, each generation sees a doubling of capacity.

"We should expect there to be a commercial product of generation 14 in 12 to 14 years," Sandoval said.

The demo provided evidence that LTO-14 is feasible under lab conditions, but there are still challenges ahead, according to ESG's Choinski.

"There are hurdles in the manufacturing process that are built into this roadmap," he said.

These hurdles include sourcing materials for the denser media while keeping prices in line with expectations and demands, Choinski said.

The LTO Ultrium roadmap
The updated LTO Ultrium roadmap takes capacity to more than a petabyte in a single cartridge.

Capacity is king

With every generation, there is also an increase in performance, but that is not the LTO Program's focus, according to Laura Loredo, product marketing manager for nearline storage at HPE.

"Capacity is probably our No. 1 requirement that we need to hit in our given go-to-market time frames," Loredo said.

The focus is to maintain the doubling of capacity every two to three years, as opposed to increasing capacity and bandwidth every five years. While tape can be fast, customers tend to look at the technology for archiving and data backup purposes.

"LTO is chosen for its reliability and low costs," said Eric Bassier, senior director of products at Quantum.

If you are going to invest in tape for some part of your infrastructure, you have a long run rate along with a roadmap you can feel confident in looking forward.
Vinny ChoinskiAnalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

The main innovation the LTO Program will focus on is improving areal density, or the amount of data that can be stored per square inch of tape media, he said.

Following the roadmap into the future

Beyond their use as an archival tool, the new LTO tapes -- from the current ninth generation up to generation 14 -- provide a benefit that HDDs might not: They have the same form factor and will use the same equipment.

"If you are going to invest in tape for some part of your infrastructure, you have a long run rate along with a roadmap you can feel confident in looking forward," Choinski said.

Getting hard drives to higher capacities without changing the form factor might prove challenging, he said. If form factors change, the underlying infrastructure would have to change.

Plus, tape is more environmentally friendly than HDDs, Loredo said. Using LTO could reduce carbon emissions by 6.5 times compared with HDDs, according to a paper co-written by the LTO Program and ESG.

"Customers come to us and say, 'The price of electricity is through the roof, we can't keep our data on hard drives,'" she said. These customers are moving cold data to tape to reap cost and efficiency benefits.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware and private clouds. He previously worked at StorageReview.com.

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