Science 3 min read

IBM Sets a World Record for Data Storage



Setting a new world record, a new magnetic tape drive from IBM and Sony can hold 330 terabytes of “uncompressed” data, or a whopping density of 201 gigabytes per square inch.

The exponential growth of data is a major technical challenge with high economical stakes. Science has offered many solutions over the last century such as hard drives found in computers, data centers, and flash memory storage.

With the flurry of sophisticated data storage options available today, it sounds counterintuitive to speak about magnetic tapes.

You can hold 330 million books in IBM's latest tape drive.Click To Tweet

However, tapes, which have been around for 60 years, are here to stay thanks to science, and IBM!

IBM has a long history with tapes and is still committed to improving tape-based data storage, as demonstrated by the fact that IBM’s latest tape drive has a density 165 million times higher than its first product.

Magnetic Tape, the old and Progressing Data Storage Media

Chances are that you still have some old VHS videotapes of family gatherings, parties and other good memories.

You may hold on to them as valuable relics because they are. But if VHS tapes are dead, the technology behind them is far from passing on.

Tape-based data storage has been predicted to disappear over the years because tapes, some wrongly believe, are inefficient, slow and obsolete.

First invented for sound recordings, the magnetic tape evolved into one of the most widespread and reliable data storage media.

Among other data storage options available, magnetic tapes are more cost-effective, reliable, and energy-efficient than disk-based media.

If the storage capacity of tapes has been their main disadvantage, scientists keep pushing their limits that now their density is even higher than hard drives.

IBM Sets a World Record for Data Storage

According to a report released in March 2017 by the International Data Corporation (IDC Custom Tape Report 2016 H2), in 2016, IBM’s tape market share of 43% was an increase of 13 points from the previous year.

Since 2006, IBM scientists set the world’s record in tape storage for 4 times, and now it’s back at it again.

IBM Sets a World Record for Data Storage
IBM Tape Iterations

In a press release, IBM announced they have managed to set a new world record (their fifth) for the amount of data in magnetic tape storage.

IBM Research collaborated with Sony Storage Media Solutions to develop a sputtered magnetic tape capable of storing 330 TB (terabytes) of uncompressed data, or the equivalent of 330 million textbooks.

The prototype cartridge, which is the size of the palm of the hand, has a density of 201 GB/in2, that is 20 times more than the areal density of the best performing tape drive currently in the market.

Tape has traditionally been used for video archives, back-up files, replicas for disaster recovery and retention of information on premise, but the industry is also expanding to off-premise applications in the cloud,” said an IBM expert in the press release.

While sputtered tape is expected to cost a little more to manufacture than current commercial tape that uses Barium ferrite (BaFe), the potential for very high capacity will make the cost per TB very attractive, making this technology practical for cold storage in the cloud.

When will IBM set the next record for tape data storage? Is it time to bust out the old VHS tapes?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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