LTO-9 Specs Reveal Compromise
September 16, 2020 Alex Woodie
The three companies behind the linear tape-open (LTO) tape standard released the specifications for LTO-9 last week. Those looking for a doubling of capacity over LTO-8, which was the plan according to the group’s product roadmap, will be disappointed.
Tapes based on the just-released LTO-9 specification will be able to store 18TB without compression and 45TB of data with 2.5-to-1 compression turned on, the LTO Program announced last week.
Those capacities represent just a 50 percent increase over LTO-8’s specifications. However, according to the LTO Program roadmap published in 2017, the group had been targeting 30TB of native capacity and 60TB of compressed capacity with LTO-9. That would have represented a doubling of storage capacity, or 100 percent growth.
The reduced capacity in LTO-9 relative to expectations is the result of a compromise between cost and capability, the LTO Program said. Here’s the statement the group made last week:
“LTO media has doubled in capacity approximately every 2.3 years since the first generation was launched 20 years ago. For LTO generation 9, the LTO Program elected to balance the cost and benefit of technology within the specification offering an 18TB tape cartridge — a 50 percent increase in capacity from the previous generation — to address the current market for storage space. A new roadmap has been established with the goal to double capacity in each generation moving forward.”
The LTO Program did not say how fast drives based on the new LTO-9 spec will be able to read and write to tape. “Data transfer rates are not part of the specification at this time,” a spokesperson said. LTO-8 offered native data transfer speeds of 300 MB per second and 750 MB per second for compressed data. That represented an 87.5 percent increase in native transfer speeds over the previous generation.
The LTO Program last week also issued a new LTO roadmap going out to a twelfth generation. The new roadmap shows LTO-10 featuring 36TB of native capacity and 90TB of compressed capacity (down from 48TB and 120TB, respectively, in the previous roadmap). LTO-11 will feature 72TB of native capacity and 180TB of compressed capacity (down from 96TB and 240TB, respectively). And LTO-12 will feature 144TB of native capacity and 360TB of compressed capacity (down from 192TB and 480TB, respectively).
Quantum announced that it will begin taking orders for LTO-9 technology in September, with deliveries for stand-alone LTO-9 drives and LTO-9 drives for its Scalar and SuperLoader tape libraries planned for the first quarter of 2021. It’s unclear when IBM and HPE, which together with Quantum make up the LTO Program, will announce their LTO-9 offerings.
IBM started shipping LTO-8 drives, which featured prices between $15,000 and $20,000, at the end of 2017. However, due to the patent dispute between Sony and Fujifilm, most customers could not get the new LTO-8 media, and were forced to use older (and less capacious) LTO-7 media with new speedy new drives.
Eighteen terabytes of native capacity (and 45TB compressed) is still an awful lot of data, no doubt about it. LTO-5 tapes unveiled a decade ago featured just 1.5TB of native capacity (and 3TB compressed). And with an 85x advantage over spinning disk in terms of areal density (according to the LTO Program), LTO-9 surely will find its share of adopters with organizations that are struggling to store data (the media and entertainment industry comes to mind).
But it’s unclear to what extent LTO-9 will be adopted among organizations that, for the most part, are not facing acute data storage problems in their transactional workloads, including the banks, distributors, retailers, and manufacturers running IBM i servers.
When you combine the less-than-expected increase in LTO-9 capacity with the delays that occurred in delivering LTO-8 media — they only began shipping at the end of 2019 thanks to a patent dispute between Sony and Fujifilm, the only two companies making LTO-8 media–it raises the possibility that LTO-9 could be a lost generation for the LTO program and LTO customers, particularly with the doubling of capacity promised to resume with LTO-10.
Despite all this uncertainty, the folks in the LTO Program are bullish on LTO-9’s fortunes.
“We are very excited at the future for LTO technology, and with increased capacity we are catering to the current and future market requirements for data storage,” said Chris Powers, HPE’s vice president of collaborative platforms development and big data. “We continue to improve the core technology every generation, as tape is one of the most reliable and cost-effective storage solutions to retain data while keeping it safe from ransomware and other cyberattacks.”