Computers

New magnetic tape prototype breaks data density and capacity records

New magnetic tape prototype br...
IBM and Fujifilm's new magnetic tape could find use in data centers
IBM and Fujifilm's new magnetic tape could find use in data centers
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IBM and Fujifilm's new magnetic tape could find use in data centers
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IBM and Fujifilm's new magnetic tape could find use in data centers
(Left) A cutaway showing the different layers of the new magnetic tape's structure, and (right) a comparison between barium ferrite (BaFe) and strontium ferrite (SrFe) particles
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(Left) A cutaway showing the different layers of the new magnetic tape's structure, and (right) a comparison between barium ferrite (BaFe) and strontium ferrite (SrFe) particles

Magnetic tape may seem like a pretty antiquated data storage technology, but its density and capacity is still hard to beat for big data centers. Now, IBM and Fujifilm have teamed up to create a prototype high-density tape cartridge with a record-breaking capacity of 580 TB.

Other media have come and gone, but magnetic tape has been the go-to storage medium ever since its invention in 1952. That’s thanks to its durability, density, low cost, longevity, energy efficiency and scalability – but all of these stats have of course improved over the decades.

The newest prototype cartridge manages to squeeze in 317 Gigabits per square inch (6.45 sq cm) of tape, which is just 4.3 micrometers thick and 1.3 km (0.8 miles) long if you were to unroll it. That adds up to a huge total data capacity of around 580 TB, which marks quite an improvement over IBM’s previous record from 2017, when it and Sony produced a cartridge of 201 Gigabits/in2 for a capacity of 330 TB.

(Left) A cutaway showing the different layers of the new magnetic tape's structure, and (right) a comparison between barium ferrite (BaFe) and strontium ferrite (SrFe) particles
(Left) A cutaway showing the different layers of the new magnetic tape's structure, and (right) a comparison between barium ferrite (BaFe) and strontium ferrite (SrFe) particles

The main improvement that allowed for the new record was the new tape material developed by Fujifilm. Most current tapes are coated in magnetic particles of barium ferrite (BaFe), but this time the company used a new type of particle called strontium ferrite (SrFe). These new particles take up 60 percent less physical space than BaFe particles, allowing more of them to be crammed into a section of tape. A new non-magnetic under layer also improves the smoothness of the tape, allowing the read/write head to get in closer.

IBM’s role in the prototype was to develop these read/write heads, as well as the actuators and servos that control them. The company says that the new developments allow the heads to be positioned to within 3.2 nm, a world record for accuracy.

These tape cartridges would be particularly useful for data centers, which are vital for handling the ever-increasing amount of data generated, processed, stored and transferred around the world.

Sources: IBM, Fujifilm

12 comments
12 comments
solas
I'm sorry Dave, I am afraid I can't do that.
aki009
Tape is where data goes to die. The whole purpose of this exercise is to dump stuff that's obviously no longer needed for any active business need, but where the VP responsible for IT doesn't wants to take the responsibility for authorizing the deletion of data that for some reason might some day become valuable again. So onto a tape it goes, where it every so slowly degrades and finally gets recycled into plastic bottles. I guess this is similar to the storage unit business, where garbage waits until its owner finally decides it's garbage.
Kevin Ritchey
My goodness! Maybe they can now create a Compact Cassette with decent signal-to-noise ratio so I can copy some Ramones tapes for the car. Or the topic of this article will die a slow death like everything else that becomes listed as a futuristic breakthrough.
KurtCannon
The drawback is of course is that tape is not random access. It must run through a great deal of data until it reaches the data desired. This is mostly for backup and large data transfer.
HighlanderJuan
Mag tapes were used historically for long term storage (e.g. NASA mission data) but were found to have bleed through and data loss problems if the tapes were not spun forward and rewound every several years. Some NASA mission data, before this was understood, was lost as a result. There was no comment in this article about the long term storage bleed through problem that I saw, and so that raises the question about whether or not these new tapes, as exciting as they may be, must be treated like their earlier tape technologies in order to prevent bleed through problems.
DaveWesely
I'm not sure why everyone is so down on magnetic tape storage. It's cheap and degrades slower than any other storage medium. Sure, some data is garbage. But think of digital video and photos. It can get more valuable with age. Are we, as individuals, going to be able to keep our family digital histories intact? I thought CDs and DVDs would fill that niche, but they are already becoming obsolete. Digital reel to reel tape may be the best economical long term solution.
Cloud3270
Backup and long distance data transfer. Flying a couple of these tapes to a destination might be quicker than transmitting huge amounts of data which would also eat up the network capacity.
Username
Be kind, rewind!
Kpar
I remember, a few years back, that a bunch of Hollerith cards (punch cards) were discovered in a NASA warehouse with early data from the Voyager probes. A computer class made it their project to transfer the data to magnetic media, but some data was lost due to humidity damage to the cards.

Many megabytes of info had never been reviewed prior to that discovery.
greg heil
Wake me up when i can actually BUY it....