LAKE WALES, Fla. — IBM researchers have set a tape areal-density record of 201 gigabytes per square inch — 20 times the areal density of current commercial tape drives — enabling a single palm-sized cartridge to hold 330 terabytes of uncompressed data. IBM Research and Sony Storage Media Solutions, which developed the nano-grained sputtered tape used for the demonstration prototype, described the achievement in Tsukuba, Japan, today (Aug. 2) at The Magnetic Recording Conference (TMRC 2017).
IBM scientist Mark Lantz holds a 1-square-inch piece of sputtered tape that can hold 201 Gbytes.
IBM Research scientists have achieved a new record in tape storage on a prototype sputtered magnetic tape developed by Sony Storage Media Solutions. (Source: IBM)
Tape was invented more than 60 years ago and has repeatedly been deemed obsolete, but it remains the dominant method for storing cold data — data that is infrequently accessed but must be maintained, such as tax documents and health care records. The Big Data era has seen a resurgence in popularity for tape, which is valued for its small size and low cost relative to other storage alternatives as well as for its ability to store not just backup and archival data, but also the massive sensor and transactional data streams going up to the cloud. Indeed, business at IBM's tape storage unit grew by 8 percent last year, according to Gartner Inc.
IBM has set five tape storage records since 2006.
An increase in areal recording density simply means that less space is needed to store massive amounts of seldomly accessed information. IBM has broken the areal density record for tape storage five times since 2006 (see table), with most of the breakthroughs ending up in commercial products. Although the IBM-Sony's demonstration at TMRC 2017 is a prototype, IBM suggested that a commercial product could arrive next year.
The prototype pairs Sony’s nano-grained magnetic tape technology with IBM Research Zurich’s newly developed write/read heads and IBM’s next-generation servo and signal processing technologies.
Sony achieved nano-granularity by sputtering vertically oriented, 7-nanometer magnetic grains on a tape substrate topped with a protective layer and a permanent lubricant. IBM created signal-processing algorithms that use noise-predictive detection to enable a linear density of 818,000 bits per inch of tape using an ultra-narrow, 48-nm tunneling magnetoresistive head. The ultra-narrow tracks enable a thirteenfold increase in track density over IBM’s previous generation, to 246,200 tracks per inch with a bit-error rate of <1e-20, the researchers reported. For all the details, read “201 Gb/in² Recording Areal Density on Sputtered Magnetic Tape”.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times