Magnetic tape prototype makes data leap

IBM and Fuji Photo devise system that holds 15 times more data than most popular types of magnetic tape.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Magnetic tape isn't dead, IBM and Fuji Photo would like you to know.

Researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center and at Fuji Photo have devised a prototype storage system utilizing a dual-layer magnetic tape that can hold 6.67 billion bits of data per square inch. That's 15 times greater than most popular types of magnetic tape on the market today.

Photos: Storage leap

The achievement helps bolster the argument that tape will continue to remain an economical means of archival storage for years to come. The low costs and relatively small size of tape are tough to beat. A linear tape open (LTO) cartridge--an industrial tape storage cassette about half the size of a VHS tape-- equipped with the new tape could hold the equivalent of about 8 million books, according to IBM. Housing that many books in a library would take 57 miles of shelves.

Storing data in massive tape libraries also consumes very little energy, especially when compared with hard drives. The tape market accounted for around $4.82 billion in revenue in 2005, according to statistics from IDC.

Storage systems equipped with this new type of tape could hit the market in about five years, according to IBM.

The tape, created by Fuji, consists of a thin layer of barium ferrite crystals dispersed uniformly. Barium ferrite does not corrode or change chemically over time, making it a good choice for long-term storage. Fuji has produced storage tape with barium ferrite crystals for several years but has continued to refine the formula and deposition process. This experimentation has led to the current results.

Additionally, IBM has improved the read-write head and the methods for positioning the head to reduce the size of the data tracks by about 90 percent. Scientists from IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory developed a new coding method that improved the accuracy of reading magnetic bits.

"With tape automation revenue growth expected to be up to 8 percent through 2011, our customers are storing increasing amounts of data to manage their enterprises and to address the compliance requirements of laws such as the and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996," Cindy Grossman, vice president, IBM Tape Storage Systems, said in a statement.

With the new tape, IBM broke its own record. In 2002, scientists at Big Blue came up with a tape capable of a density of 1 billion bits per square inch.

Correction: CNET incorrectly described the magnetic tape used in a prototype storage system devised by IBM and Fuji Photo researchers. The tape is dual-layer.
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