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The newly update roadmap released by the LTO Program Technology Provider Companies (TPCs) in October 2017, now spans an amazing 12 generations. The original LTO roadmap released in 2000 featured just the original four generations with LTO- 1 at 100 GB and LTO-4 at 800 GB capacity. Other popular tape formats like DDS and DLT had just four or five generations over their entire lifespan. IBM enterprise tape has had a pretty good run when you factor in 3480, 3490, 3590 and 3592 JA, JB, JC, and JD.
LTO certainly has had a very good run these past 17 years and figures to have decades left to go. If we assume two to two-and-a-half years between generations, and based on LTO-8 as newly introduced at the start of 2018, we might expect Gen 12 to be in the market around 2028. The spec on LTO-12 is 192 TB native (480 TB compressed assuming 2.5:1 compression). Is this even achievable based on current tape technology? After all, we are at 6.0 TB on LTO-7 today and LTO-8 is slated for 12.0 TB native.
This is where the importance of long-term research and development comes into play. Recall that in 2006, IBM and Fujifilm demonstrated the achievement of an areal density of 6.7 Gbpsi (billions of bits per square inch) which gave us the potential to achieve up to 8.0 TB native capacity on a single cartridge based on the first generation of Barium Ferrite magnetic particles. Sure enough, by 2011 the first multi-terabyte tapes came to market at 4.0 TB and 5.0 TB from IBM and Oracle respectively. This was followed by LTO-6 at 2.5 TB in 2012. Fast forward to 2015 when IBM and Fujifilm demonstrated the achievement of 123 Gbpsi with potential for a native 220 TB cartridge using 3rd generation Barium Ferrite magnetic particles.
More recently Sony and IBM demonstrated 201 Gbpsi with potential for a 330 TB cartridge and Fujifilm’s Strontium Ferrite next-generation magnetic particle promises more than 400 TB on a cartridge with an areal density of approximately 224 Gpsi. How dense can the areal density get? If you look at HDD areal density, it is greater than 1,000 Gpsi. So, we can safely say that tape has no fundamental technology limitations and can achieve not only Gen 12 but many generations beyond that. This, of course, makes tape a safe bet for long-term migration plans at a cost that will continue to be significantly lower than competing technologies.