IT Shops Consume 2 Million LTO Tape Drives
September 10, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Linear Tape-Out (LTO) tape format created by Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and a former division of Seagate Technology now owned by Quantum continues to take the data center by storm, pushing aside other tape formats and demonstrating once again the value of standards in creating a dominate technology.
LTO tape drives first went into production in September 2000, and since that time, more than two million LTO tape drives, which bear the name Ultrium, have been sold. To date, over 80 million Ultrium tape cartridges have been sold. A year ago, the companies behind the LTO spec and the products that use them were bragging that 1.5 million Ultrium drives and 50 million cartridges had been sold through September 2006. Doing a year-to-year comparison, consumption of Ultrium drives is accelerating, and cartridges are flying off the shelves even faster–and this is at a time in the history of data processing where nearline storage is being increasingly used alongside tape archives. Since last year, tape drive shipments have increased by 33 percent, and tape cartridge shipments are up 60 percent.
“The considerable momentum of the LTO format shows strong and continuing acceptance of each LTO generation, and there’s no doubt that the release of generation 4 solutions will keep the LTO format moving forward,” explained Sal Capizzi, vice president and senior analyst at Ideas International, in a statement put out by the LTO partners. “As we look at the hierarchy of storage managed by IT professionals, tape has a solid role in the data center for the foreseeable future, delivering needed backup and archive functions as well as cost savings in hybrid disk and tape backup systems. Tape brings exceptionally strong price/performance benefits while protecting data in a very cost-efficient manner, and the added data security provided by the native tape drive encryption capability of LTO 4 further increases the attractiveness of this format.”
The original LTO drives from six years ago held 200 GB of compressed data and transferred data at 40 MB/sec. Each successive generation takes about two years to get into the field.
With the LTO 4 specification, Write Once, Read Many (WORM) times capabilities added during the LTO 3 generation will be improved, data encryption will be added (256 Bit AES-GCM encryption, to be precise), 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.
The uptake for LTO products has accelerated even as the LTO partners have had to back off a bit on performance. The LTO 3 spec was hammered out in October 2004, and products began making their way to market in 2005. But at that same time, the LTO partners scaled back on data transfer rates on future LTO 4, LTO 5, and LTO 6 designs, cutting back from a doubling transfer rates every two years to simply boosting them as much as they could. Specifically, 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, an increase of 50 percent. LTO 6 drives will double capacity again to 6.4 TB per cartridge and boost data transfer rates to 540 MB/sec.
256 Bit AES-GCM encryption capabilities at the tape drive level that are designed to enable the writing of encrypted data to the LTO Ultrium tape cartridge, helping to protect information on the tapes during storage and transportation.
LTO format generation 4 provides for drives with backward-compatible read-and-write capability to store and retrieve data with the LTO format generation 3 cartridges, and backward read capabilities with generation 2 cartridges, to help protect the investment customers have made in LTO products.