IBM and Fujitsu Unveil 150 TB Tape Drive
September 13, 2023 Alex Woodie
Organizations will be able to store up to 150 TB of compressed data on a single cartridge when they select the new TS1170 IBM tape drive and 3592 JF tape cartridge developed by Fujifilm. The unveiling of the world’s most voluminous tape storage system two weeks ago shows that tape has a lot of life as a medium for mass data storage.
The new TS1170 tape drive is the sixth generation of IBM’s high-end, enterprise-class tape technology, which is supported on IBM i and other enterprise servers. It’s capable of saving data to the new 3592 JF tape cartridge at a speed of 400 MBps native, which is the same speed delivered by the drive’s predecessor, the TS1160, which IBM shipped in 2019, and not much faster than the 360 MBps native data transfer rate delivered by the TS1150, which IBM launched back in 2014. The TS1170 connects to hosts via 16 Gbps Fibre Channel adapters or 12 Gbps SAS adapters, according to IBM’s data sheet.
However, the 50TB native capacity of the 3592 JF cartridge is a two-and-a-half times increase over the 20TB capacity supported by the TS1160 media and a five-fold increase over the 10TB capacity offered by the TS1150 drive. And with three-to-one compression turned on, customers can store a whopping 150TB of data, a 60TB increase over TS1160.
The fact that organizations will need just seven 3592 JF tape cartridges to store more than a petabyte of data shows just how far tape storage has come, and how much data they can enable an organization to store.
So how did IBM and Fujifilm manage to squeeze so much more data onto magnetic tape? One word: Nanoparticles.
“Fine hybrid magnetic particles have been newly developed by combining the technologies used in the next-generation Strontium Ferrite (SrFe) magnetic particles and the Barium Ferrite (BaFe) particles that are currently used in high-capacity data storage tapes,” IBM says in its press release. “Reduction in the size of the magnetic particles and enhancement in their magnetic properties significantly improves the areal recording density.”
IBM and Fujifilm used new “high dispersion technology” in the 3592 JF tape cartridge that prevents the individual ultrafine magnetic particles from glomming together, as well as a new coating technology that allows a more uniform and smoother tape surface. IBM and Fujifilm were also able to shrink the width of the base film, which allowed it to make the actual tape 15 percent longer.
At 50 TB, the new TS1170 tape drive and its associated 3592 JF tape cartridge offers 32TB more capacity than the latest generation LTO-9 technology, which shipped in 2021 with support for 18TB of native capacity and 45TB compressed capacity. According to the LTO Program’s latest roadmap, it wouldn’t have a drive/cartridge combo that can exceed the TS1170 drive and 3592 JF cartridge native or compressed capacity until LTO-11, which is currently slated to feature 72TB of native capacity and 180TB compressed. The LTO-11, however, is likely at least four years
“With 50TB native capacity, 2.5 times the capacity of the previous highest-capacity tape cartridges2, Fujifilm believes this breakthrough demonstrates the future potential of tape technology,” Kei Nagata, the deputy general manager of Fujifilm’s Industrial Products Division, says in a press release. “The IBM 3592 JF tape cartridge is yet another milestone in many years of joint research and development with IBM, and we are honored to be the manufacturer of this product.”
IBM is touting the TS1170 as a way to protect data from cybercriminals and ransomware. Storing sensitive data on tape serves as a form of “airgap” protection, since data can’t be read unless the tape drive is mounted. The TS1170 can be loaded into IBM’s TS4500 Tape Library. Spectra Logic, another provider of enterprise tape libraries, also announced support for the TS1170 in its products.
The rise of object storage systems in the public cloud is another growth driver for tape. While public clouds like Amazon Web Service don’t publicly advertise it, they are known to leverage tape to store vast amounts of data on behalf of customers. These tape environments obviously aren’t being used for real-time transactional or fast analytic systems, which increasingly are using solid state disks (SSDs) as well as RAM. But for long-term storage offerings, such as AWS S3 Glacier, nothing beats the economics of tape.
“This is the first tape storage medium with 50TB native capacity, and it demonstrates tape’s viability as an optimal choice for data protection, active archives and long-term retention in scientific data, industrial data collection, and cloud service provider environments,” says Alistair Symon, vice president of storage systems development at IBM, in a press release.