August 4, 2017

IBM and Sony stuff 330 TB on a tiny tape

For the fifth time in just over a decade, IBM has set a new record for magnetic tape storage, as the New York-based computing giant has successfully captured 330 terabytes of uncompressed data – equal to more than 300 million books – onto a cartridge you can hold in your hand.

According to The Verge, the company announced that it had achieved a record of 201 gigabits per square inch of data storage – more than 20 times the areal density of current commercially-used tape drives – using prototype magnetic tape created by Sony Storage Media Solutions.

As Futurism explained, tape drives have been in use for more than half a century, and currently are used to store tax documents, medical records and other data from mainframe computers. The original tapes were only capable of storing 2 megabytes, while today’s commercial versions can store up to 15 terabytes worth of data.

Not content with those specs, IBM has been working for years to improve upon the capabilities of magnetic tape. In 2006, they revealed an 8 terabyte model with an areal density of 6.67 billion bytes per square inch. They topped that with a 35 terabyte, 29.5 billion bytes per square inch one in 2010 and a 154 million terabyte, 85.9 billion bytes per square inch model in 2014.

Breakthrough required new material, several innovations

In 2015, IBM unveiled a 220 terabyte version of the tape that had an areal density of 201 billion bytes per square inch. The cartridge, like all of its predecessors, was made from a material called Barium ferrite – a highly magnetic metal oxide that possesses a high packing density.

For its latest creation, however, the computing company switched to sputtered tape, which IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou said “is expected to cost a little more to manufacture” than current Barium ferrite-based products, but which has a “potential for very high capacity” that will “make the cost per TB very attractive, making this technology practical for cold storage in the cloud.”

In order to make its 201 gigabit per square inch chip a reality, IBM said that its researchers had to develop several new technologies, including single-processing data channel algorithms based on noise-predictive detection principles and a series of advanced servo-control technologies that combine to produce head positioning of more than seven nanometers.

The former innovation, the company explained in a statement, enables it to operate reliably at a linear density of 818,000 bits/inch with an ultra-narrow 48-nanometer wide tunnelling magneto-resistive (TMR) reader. The latter, when combined with the TMR drive, enables a track density of 246,200 tracks per inch – 13 times better than its commercial TS1155 enterprise tape drive.

IBM, along with colleagues from Sony, announced its breakthrough Wednesday during an event at The 28th Magnetic Recording Conference (TMRC 2017) in Tsukuba, Japan. A research paper detailing their work has been published online in the journal IEEE Transactions on Magnetics.


Image credit:  IBM Research