Products based on the ninth generation of the LTO Ultrium storage tape technology, or LTO-9, are now coming to market after a pandemic-laced year in which magnetic tape shipments dropped slightly year-over-year but future predictions for the storage technology are positive.
The main drivers — Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Quantum and IBM — behind the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Program in September 2020 released the specifications for LTO-9 storage tape technology, making it available for licensing. A year later, vendors like IBM, FujiFilm, HPE, Quantum and Spectra Logic are rolling out products leveraging the technology.
At the same time, the LTO Program this week said Sony and FujiFilm passed the group’s interchange testing, achieving LTO-9 format compliance and allowing them to use the technology’s trademarks on LTO-based products.
The new products will give enterprises that are being overwhelmed with data another tool alongside flash and hard-disk drives (HDDs) for efficiently storing it. In addition, proponents are pointing to tape storage as an effective way for protecting data against the scourge of ransomware.
“Building on more than two decades of data protection and storage innovation, LTO-9 offers end users more energy-efficient storage capacity than previous generations,” Sam Werner, vice president for storage product management at IBM, said in a statement. “It delivers a powerful, scalable and adaptable open-tape storage format that can provide industries around the globe secured and protected data against storage cyber threats.”
The LTO-9 specifications increased tape cartridge capacity over predecessors, with 18 terabytes per cartridge (a 50 percent jump over LTO-8), and up to 45TB when compressed. It also includes such features as multi-layer security support through hardware-based encryption, write once, read many functionality and support for linear tape file system (LTFS). There also is full backward read and write compatibility with LTO-8 cartridges.
LTO-9 also has a data transfer rate of 400 megabytes per second, or 1,000 MB/s when compressed.
A Look at LTO’s Future
The LTO Program has a roadmap for LTO that goes out to generation 12, which is expected to offer 144TB of capacity per cartridge and up to 360TB when compressed.
Such capabilities are increasingly important at a time annual global data generation is well into the zettabytes — IDC is predicting 175 ZB in 2025 — and when the analytics used now makes even older data important to keep and protect, according to Rich Gadomski, head of tape evangelism at FujiFilm Recording Media USA.
“If we can derive value from that data, even older data sets, then we want to keep it indefinitely,” Gadomski told Enterprise Storage Forum. “But this data can’t economically reside on tier 1 flash or tier 2 HDD storage. Ideally it will move to more cost-effective tier 3 tape as an archive or active archive where online access can be maintained. LTO-9 is perfect for this application thanks to its large capacity and high data transfer rate.”
A Rebound in the Market
Like a lot of technologies, LTO tape storage took a beating last year as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and forced businesses to close their doors. In 2020, 105,198 petabytes of total tape capacity shipped, a slight drop from 2019, with compressed capacities about 7.7 percent less, according to the LTO Program. However, with employees returning to work and organizations once again pursuing long-term strategic projects, there is a rebound in tape capacity shipments, Gadomski said.
“The long-term outlook is very positive as hyperscalers have now widely adopted tape systems and we expect that ascending hyperscalers and other large users will follow their lead,” he said. “We also believe that the traditional enterprise users will continue to find value in tape’s TCO advantage, low energy consumption and best practice air-gap protection against cybercrime.”
The rollout of LTO-9 product should help. IBM is listing three new LTO-9 drives on its site and FujiFilm this week unveiled its own LTO-9 data cartridge. In addition, Spectra Logic said LTO-9 technology is available in its family of tape library offerings, including the Spectra TFinity ExaScale, T950, T950v, T680, T380, T200, T120, T50e and Spectra Stack.
HPE announced on Twitter the availability of its LTO-9 cartridges and Quantum said it is offering LTO-9 in its Scalar i600 enterprise and Scalar i6 midrange tape systems.
Ransomware Protection is Key
Tape storage proponents point to the rapid growth of data, including unstructured data, and the rise of ransomware as key reasons why tape will remain a relevant storage technology.
“Ransomware has evolved from an unintelligent attack aimed at disrupting your business, to a relentless, targeted, sophisticated AI-driven machine that seeks to encrypt and delete your backups to obtain hundreds of thousands in ransom,” Diana Salazar, product marketing manager for enterprise data protection at Quantum, wrote in a blog post. “To meet the heavy demands of our current cyber climate and that of video and other forms of unstructured data, tape provides the assurance that a copy of your data will be available when needed. Tape has an inherent nature to air gap data and is the lowest cost solution for your long-term ‘cold’ storage.”
At the same time, “an offline copy is critical as an insurance policy should your online copies be compromised,” Salazar wrote. “Today, there isn’t technology available that can stop ransomware from attacking your organization, but we can help you prevent you from gaining a foothold.”
Benefits of Tape Storage
In addition, there are a number of benefits to tape in terms of efficiency and costs, FujiFilm’s Gadomski said.
“Tape technology also has a major advantage in terms of energy consumption as tape systems require no energy unless tapes are being read or written to in a tape drive,” he said. “Otherwise, tapes that are idle in a library slot or vaulted offsite consume no energy. As a result, the CO2 footprint is significantly lower than always on disk systems, constantly spinning and generating heat that needs to be cooled.”
Tape systems consume 87 percent less energy than other forms of media and produce up to 95 percent less carbon emissions, Gadomski said. In addition, he said, it’s easy to overlook the advancements tape technology has made given that LTO has been around since 2000.
“Tape is often thought to be old technology although it was introduced to the market at the same time as HDD,” he said. “But tape technology has not been sitting still and has evolved over time with technology breakthroughs in the magnetic recording layer to advancements in servo-tracks and read/write heads.”
The future for LTO looks promising, Gadomski said. In December 2020, FujiFilm and IBM demonstrated the ability to achieve 580TB on a standard LTO-sized cartridge leveraging a new magnetic particle, Strontium Ferrite, which can be greatly reduced in size without magnetic signal loss. This translates to an increase in areal density to 317 Gbits per square inch. It’s a record in areal density for linear magnetic tape, but it’s much less than the more than 1,000 Gbits/square inch available now with HDD technology.
“However, that’s a distinct advantage for tape, which has room to grow while HDD technology is up against the superparamagnetic limitations,” he said.