LTO Tape Drives a Smashing Success
October 2, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape drive format that was created through the collaboration of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Seagate Technologies, has essentially rolled all over its competition in the tape archiving market.
According to the three LTO partners, more than 1.5 million LTO Ultrium tape drives and more than 50 million LTO tape cartridges have shipped since the LTO format first became available in September 2000.
Products meeting the Ultrium LTO 3 specification, which adds write once, read many (WORM) capabilities to the tapes, have just begun shipping. Now, the LTO partners are working on adding native data encryption and decryption capabilities–which IBM just added to its TS1120 (formerly the 3592) tape drives and Sun Microsystems just added to its T10000 tape drives (the kicker to the 9940 mainframe tape drives).
While these two tape drives can be linked to mainframe, i5/OS, Unix, Windows, and Linux platforms, they are not cheap. LTO units are much less expensive and much more appropriate for midrange customers. These shops will no doubt wait for encryption to be added to LTO 4 drives.
With the LTO 4 specification, WORM capabilities will be improved, encryption will be added, compressed data transfer rates (assuming a 2:1 data compression ratio) will be boosted to 240 MB/sec (up from 160 MB/sec with LTO 3 drives), and native cartridge capacity with compression will be boosted to 1.6 TB. With the LTO 5 spec, tape cartridge capacity will double to 3.2 TB and data transfer rates on compressed data will hit 360 MB/sec. Generation 6 of the LTO technology will double capacity again to 6.4 TB per cartridge and boost data transfer rates to 540 MB/sec. The original LTO drives from six years ago held 200 GB of compressed data and transferred data at 40 MB/sec. LTO 3 spec was hammered out in October 2004, and products began making their way to market in 2005. Each generation takes about two years to get a spec together, which means that the LTO 4 spec should be done this year, if history is any guide, with products appearing in 2007. In 2005, the LTO partners scaled back on data transfer rates on future designs, cutting back from a doubling transfer rates every two years to simply boosting them.