Tape Storage Could Soon Crush Hard Drives With 400TB Capacities

Tape Storage Could Soon Crush Hard Drives With 400TB Capacities
Photo: Fujifilm

If you’ve got a mountain of digital data to store but don’t necessarily need to access it every day, tape cartridges are the way to go. Twelve terabytes of storage will set you back about $200 these days, but in the coming years, Fujifilm believes it can push the technology to 400TB capacities in a single cartridge.

While tape-based formats like audio cassettes and 8-track might be long dead, the medium lives on as an affordable and reliable way to store terabytes of data. Pulling data off a tape drive is nowhere near as fast as it is from hard drives, flash drives, or even disc-based formats, and a data tape reader, made by IBM these days, will set you back close to $8,600. It’s not necessarily an economical storage solution for the average consumer, but for big corporations who need to hold onto data for decades, the savings do add up.

At the moment, Linear Tape-Open, or LTO, is the primary type of magnetic tape storage used in data centres around the world. As it improves, newer generations are simply given a name with a higher number, with the LTO-8 standard being the current format in use which allows for 12TB of data to be stored on a cartridge, or up to 30TB with the data being compressed. (Which slows down access even more.) Later this year, the new LTO-9 format is expected to be available, which doubles storage capacities to 24TB per cart, but Fujifilm is looking much farther down the road than that.

Data cartridges currently in use are made from a material called Barium Ferrite (BaFe) and every new generation uses smaller and smaller particles to cram more data onto a thin strip of tape. There’s a limit, though, when the particles get too small to be accurately read, so, as reported by Blocks & Files, Fujifilm is looking to switch to a new material called Strontium Ferrite (SrFe), a smaller molecule than BaFe which will allow for increased densities and more storage capacity per tape.

But don’t toss those LTO-8 tapes just yet. On average it takes about two-and-a-half years between data tape generations for the improved technology to reach the market. It’s estimated that Fujifilm’s proposed 400TB cartridges would be part of the LTO-13 spec (we’re only just getting LTO-9 this year, remember) and so won’t be an actual product until around 2030 at the earliest. The technology sounds promising, but given how 2020 has been going, 2030 feels more like a century away than just a decade.