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The LTO Format
Today’s tape market is almost exclusively centered on the LTO format, with two enterprise-class formats from IBM and Oracle maintaining sales, albeit at very low levels.
LTO is by far the biggest-selling tape format in the market, having pushed its midrange competitors such as DDS/DAT, DLT, AIT and others into near oblivion.
The LTO format, which originally was released in 2000, is now in its fifth generation. LTO-5 cartridges natively feature 1.5 TB of capacity and a throughput of up to 140 MBps, or 3.0 TB capacity and up to 280 MBps throughput at 2:1 compression. That is about double the capacity and throughput of LTO-4.
While further development of other midrange tape formats is not expected, the consortium of vendors that develop the LTO format have a road map that includes at least three more generations, giving the format a lifetime extending through at least 2018. The last currently planned generation, LTO-8, is slated to feature native capacity of 12.8 TB and throughput of up to 472 MBps, or 32 TB of capacity and up to 1,180 MBps, when compression is used.
Quantum’s Clark, who is a board member of the LTO Consortium, said the LTO road map is solid, and that there are even technologies that may help extend it. “The original LTO team did a really good job of laying out the road map,” Clark said.
In addition to capacity and throughput, LTO has seen continued development of other features. WORM (write once, read many) technology for configuring tapes to prevent overwriting or deleting of data was introduced with LTO-3, while LTO-4 introduced encryption technology to prevent unauthorized access of data from a tape. The biggest technological advance introduced with LTO-5 was partitioning and the Linear Tape File System, or LTFS.
Partitioning segments an LTO-5 tape cartridge into two partitions. LTFS uses this feature to place metadata, or index information, related to the content of the tape on partition 1, and the actual data on partition 2. This allows users to view the contents of the tape as if viewing a hard drive, and do drag-and-drop operations to the data in Linux, Mac OS and Windows environments without the need to sequentially read the entire tape.
The primary benefits of LTFS include the ability to easily share data on the tape between multiple storage units, and to break the tie between the data and its originating application so that data can be more readily accessed in the future.
For very high-end enterprise requirements, there are currently two tape formats available.
The first is Oracle’s T10000 series of drives, which were inherited by the company when it acquired Sun Microsystems last year.
Oracle in January introduced the newest version of that tape drive family, the StorageTek T10000C. It features a native capacity of 5 TB and a native throughput of 240 MBps, both of which are considerably more powerful than the other tape formats on the market.
With the T10000C, Oracle claims to be able to build the first storage solution to scale to up to one exabtye of capacity, using 2:1 compression. An exabyte is equivalent to 1,000 petabytes. That is about 17 times the capacity of an IBM tape library using IBM’s TS1130 drives, and 30 times the capacity of an EMC disk-based backup solution, Oracle said.
Oracle has already been talking to customers about a road map for its T10000 series drives, with some reports predicting the eventual development of a tape cartridge that can hold up to 20 TB.
The second enterprise-class tape format is IBM’s Jaguar family. The current model is the TS1130, which offers a native capacity of 1 TB per cartridge and a native throughput of 160 MBps. It started shipping in 2008.
Reports from various sources say that IBM will unveil the next generation of the Jaguar tape family this year. That new tape drive, which will probably be known as the TS1140, is expected to have a native capacity of 2 TB and a throughput speed of about 240 MBps.
Not counting the very high-end enterprise Oracle and IBM tape market, where drive sales have never been high, overall sales of tape cartridges are slowly dropping, with the exception of the recently introduced LTO-5 models.
The Santa Clara Consulting Group, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based research firm, reported in February that total midrange tape cartridge sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 reached $209 million, down about 8 percent from the industry’s sales of $228 million in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The total number of midrange tape cartridges sold worldwide reached 7.7 million during the quarter, down 9 percent compared with the 8.5 million cartridges sold the year before.
However, 6.4 million of those cartridges sold were LTO types, with LTO-5 and LTO-4 accounting for 58 percent of the total LTO cartridge sales, the Santa Clara Consulting Group reported. Sales of all other midrange formats, including DDS/DAT, DLT, AIT, QIC and 8mm, were significantly down in 2010 compared to 2009.
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