IBM Unveils LTO-8 Tape Drives
October 16, 2017 Alex Woodie
The not-so-long wait for the latest Linear Tape-Open gear is finally over, as members of the LTO Consortium last week unveiled their latest drives capacity of storing 30 TB of compressed data. Among the first consortium members unveiling product was IBM, which announced its first two LTO-8 Ultrium drives.
LTO-8 drives can store up to 12 TB of data on a single LTO-8 cartridge, and move data at rates up to 360 MB/sec. With 2.5-to-1 compression turned on, the capacity of LTO-8 drives jumps to 30 TB while the transfer rates increases to 900 MB/sec. That corresponds to a 100 percent jump in capacity over LTO-7, and a 20 percent increase in data transfer speeds.
IBM doesn’t quite hit all those best-case specs with its newest LTO-8 drive. The TS2280, which it announced October 10, is a half-height drive that can work as an external standalone drive or be mounted into a standard 19-inch rack. It sports a 6-Gb/sec dual-port SAS interface that can move data at speeds up to 300 MB/sec (750 MB/sec with compression). It does get the full capacity of 12 TB (30 TB compressed), however.
With its SAS connectivity, the TS2280 can connect to a wide variety of IBM enterprise systems, such as IBM i and System z servers, as well as Intel-based Windows and Linux machines. IBM says it will start shipping the new drive, which carries a price tag in the $15,000 to $20,000 range, on November 17.
IBM also announced its TS1080 Model F8A, a full-height LTO-8 drive that connects to systems via 8 Gb/sec Fibre Channel connections. The TS1080 Model F8A, which is designed to fit into IBM’s TS3310, TS3500 and TS4500 tape libraries, supports up to 12 TB (30 TB with compression) and hits the maximum data transfer rate of 360 MB/sec (900 MB/sec with compression), as a full-height drive should. The drive is expected to ship on November 17. Pricing was not available.
IBM also added LTO-8 drives as supported options on a range of storage products, including the IBM 7226, which can support multiple tape drives, DVD-RAM drives, and RDX removable disk drives; the TS3100 and TS3200 tape drives, which can support the half-height TS2280 SAS connected drive as well as the full-height TS1080 Fibre channel-connected drive; and the TS4300, which can support the new SAS drive as well as half-height and full-height varieties of the full-height FC drives.
The native capacity of LTO-8 cartridges is exactly double of LTO-7 gear, which started shipping just two years ago. The 360 MB/sec data transfer rate offered by LTO-8 gear is an upgrade from the previous generation, which was 300 MB/sec native.
Both the capacity and the data transfer rates of LTO-8 gear are a bit less than early expectations. LTO-8 had been penciled in as providing a transfer rate of 427 MB/sec, while the capacity of 12 TB was just shy of the expected 12.8 TB.
However, it’s the data transfer rate that has been the more stubborn metric of the two. Before LTO-6 gear shipped in 2012, there were expectations that those drives could move data at speeds up to 315 MB/sec. But when those drives finally materialized, data speeds were scaled back to 300 MB/sec. The same thing happened with LTO-7, which the LTO consortium said would hit 315 MB/sec, only to be born with the same 300 MB/sec speed of its older sibling.
Current expectations call for LTO-9, which we could ostensibly expect to hit the market in the second half of 2019 if the current 24-month cadence between LTO releases hold true, to move data at 708 MB/sec. It would seem that those expectations may be a bit unrealistic at this time, considering the difficulty in getting beyond 300 MB/sec. For comparison’s sake, IBM’s fastest enterprise-class drive, the TS1155, moves data at 350 MB/sec over Fibre channel connections. The LTO-8 gear should top that.
LTO-8 drives can read and write to LTO-7 or LTO-8 cartridges. Users of the new drives can also use LTO’s encryption capability with both generations of media. The LTO technology also supports write once, read many (WORM) functionality for establishing long-term archives of data in highly regulated environments. Companies storying large video or audio files, such as media companies, will also benefit from the LTFS, which enables users to handle large unstructured files in a relatively straightforward manner. LTFS is not supported on IBM i, however.
Tape backers will view the launch of LTO-8 gear as proof that tape is still a long way from the grave. In August, IBM Research revealed the latest breakthrough in tape: a new “sputtered” tape format that offers 20 times the areal density of standard commercial tape drives like LTO-7 and IBM’s TS1155 (the old “Magstar” drives). The research, which IBM conducted with Sony, could result in new commercial drives that offer capacity of up to 330 TB of uncompressed data.