Sony and IBM collaborate to develop 330TB tape storage

Sony and IBM have collaborated on a new Magnetic Tape Storage Technology. In a press release yesterday Sony announced the development of tape storage with the industry’s highest areal recording density of 201Gb per square inch. In comparison with tapes available on the market at this present time the new tapes will offer approx 20x greater capacity. That is indeed a significant advancement. What it means in practice is that backup tape cartridges, currently topping out at 15TB storage, will be available in capacities up to 330TB following commercialisation.

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Magnetic storage tapes are often used in large scale backup operations. As most will be aware, people, companies, and the cloud are squirreling away increasing amounts of data at an alarming rate and backups are important in the event of inevitable hardware failures.

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So, how have Sony and IBM managed such a ground breaking boost in tape recording capacity? They have simultaneously leveraged a number of complementary technologies:

  • Closing the gap (spacing) between the magnetic tape and magnetic head was made possible by a Sony developed lubricant. It reduces tape friction to enable high capacity and high speed data transfer.
  • A new nano-grained magnetic layer with microscopic magnetic particles in extended tape length was used. The manufacturing of such tape was previously difficult but a new process which reduces impurity gas and uses sputter deposition helped the companies realise tape with an average grain size of 7nm, and cartridges that can old 1000m of tape.
  • IBM’s write and read heads, advanced servo control technologies, and innovative signal-processing algorithms were also vital in the new tape storage development.

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Looking at the data density on offer in the prototype tapes, one of these 330TB tapes has a volume of about 0.33 litres, that’s similar in volume to a standard soft drink can. Currently magnetic storage on spinning disks is much less space efficient with a 3.5-inch HDD (also about a third of a litre volume) which top out at 12TB.

Sony says it is working on the commercialisation of this next-generation magnetic tape storage technology.