LTO Tapes: Over 100 Million Served
September 8, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Linear Tape Open (LTO) form factor for tape drives just keeps hitting higher and higher numbers. Last week, the three big players behind LTO–IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Quantum–said that since the first LTO products were announced at the turn of the millennium, a large number of tape decks and a huge number of tape cartridges have been sold.
How many? As of last week, some 2.5 million LTO drives have shipped, with a million of those units shipping since the third quarter of 2006. The LTO format was launched in 1998, and products started coming to market in the fall of 2000 from IBM, HP, and Seagate Technology, which spun out its LTO business as Certance before it was acquired in October 2004 by Quantum. The industry is currently on its fourth generation of technology, LTO-4, and although the consortium has had to back off a bit on capacity and performance roadmaps for the LTO format, they have done a pretty good job given the limits of tape technology in keeping the technology relevant as data storage just explodes all around us. The LTO-4 format provides 1.6 TB cartridges that have 240 MB/sec data transfer rates with compression turned on, which is a lot of improvement compared to LTO-1 drives and tapes, which had a compressed capacity of 200 GB and a data transfer rate of 40 MB/sec. On the current roadmap, LTO-5 is expected to deliver 3.2 TB tapes and drives that can push 360 MB/sec (again, with compression), and LTO-6 will sport 6.4 TB tapes and a data rate of 540 MB/sec. That’s a factor of 32 improvement in data capacity and factor of 13.5 improvement in data transfer rates. It’s pretty obvious which one is the more difficult aspect of tape technology to push.
Anyway, the LTO Consortium also wanted to let everyone know that over 100 million LTO cartridges have shipped to date, and they represent an aggregate compressed capacity of 40 exabytes of storage across all of those LTO generations. Because we always do this statistic in the IT racket to humanize the numbers, that is 40 trillion books’ worth of data, or about 1 million copies of the Library of Congress. Of course, we all know in IT that a lot of data out there eating up space in not in textual format, but all kinds of dense files like digital photos, streaming media, zillions of copies of useless junk, and such.