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The 1T byte tape: Hot storage solution or dinosaur in the making?

A 1T byte tape cartridge may be a long way off, but IBM touted its inevitability this week in Salt Lake City. For attendees, it's too early to tell if this solution is one to pursue.

SALT LAKE CITY -- What does each of these amounts equal: 125,000 MP3s, 1500 CDs or 2 weeks, 2 days, 19 hours and 12 minutes of continuous DVDs?

Aside from providing enough entertainment to keep you busy for at least a little while, they each add up to 1 terabyte of storage -- the same amount of data that IBM says it will support on a single linear tape cartridge.

An overview of IBM's five- to six-year product road map for 1T byte tape cartridges kicked off a session on recent tape innovations at the IBM Storage and Storage Networking Symposium being held here this week. While this technology, according to IBM, will be necessary to store fast-growing amounts of data, users say they're wary about putting so much information in such a small space.

"I strongly believe that tape is going to have a future," said Magnus Widmer of IBM enterprise tape marketing. 1T byte cartridges will continue to make the medium a valuable investment.

The 1T byte cartridge will be able to accommodate the incredible data growth the industry has been seeing, Widmer said, adding that more data will be created between 1999 and 2003 than has been created in the past 40,000 years combined.

IBM first recorded 1T byte of data on a tape cartridge last April, and so made a world record for longitudinal (linear) technology. This is a far cry from the first IBM tape model, released in 1952, which held just 1.4 M bytes.

Several conference attendees agreed that the 1T byte cartridge may one day be viable, but they would be a hard sell to adopt the technology.

"Well, it scares me," said Thomas Arnold, information officer for a national bank. "Putting so much in a small place, there's just a lot of room for problems."

He said that this technology would be ideal for storing data you don't use. But a lot of questions would have to be answered before he would consider using it as a backup solution.

"How long does it take to scan down a terabyte of data and find the one piece of data I just destroyed?" he said. "How long does it take you to copy it if the tape breaks? [IBM] may come up with answers to these questions; I don't know."

A virtual tape server user who asked not to be identified said the solution would have to be looked at very carefully. "The more data you have, the harder it takes to recover it. I don't know if it will fly," she said.

"There is additional work to do to get a 1T byte product ready for our users," said Bruce Master, senior program manager of IBM's Worldwide Tape Product Marketing. "We need to increase the data transfer rates by a factor of 8 to 10 times over current rates to support the magnitude of data that can be written and read on this technology."

The 1T byte cartridge is built on previous generations of IBM tape products designed with data integrity technologies, including the current 3590E's patented high reliability Servo tracks (to ensure data tracks aren't overwritten) and 3580's magnetoresistive flat lap heads (for closer reads and writes without damage).

"IBM plans to maintain and enhance data integrity technologies and processes with the 1T byte technology," Master said. In addition, users can employ tape mirroring and duplication strategies to help improve disaster tolerance.

Aside from the increased capacity, the cartridge, when complete, will offer a density of 900M bytes/sq. in., 1536 tracks and a media length of 750 meters, according to the enterprise technology road map to 1T byte tape.

There is a five- to six-year outlook for its availability.


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