Digital Tape Winding up for Archive Growth

Posted By Tom Coughlin on May 19, 2010 12:23 pm | Permalink

2010 seems to be the year for tape—digital tape that is.  The LTO consortium announced the long awaited introduction of its LTO-5 format.  The LTO-5 digital magnetic tape and drive offer 1.5 TB of uncompressed storage capacity with data rates of 140 MB/s.  LTO-5 drives will be able to read LTO-3 tapes and can write and read LTO-4 tapes allowing migration of data from the older tape formats to the new one.  LTO-5, like the prior LTO-4 products support encryption of the tapes and offers a built in support for file-system access of content on the tapes.  Quantum, HP and IBM (along with partner Tandberg) are ready to produce LTO-5 drives while Fujifilm, Imation, Maxell, Sony and TDK are ready to make media.

According to the 2010 Digital Storage for Media and Entertainment Report (Coughlin Associates, total digital storage capacity used in the media and entertainment industry will increase over 10 times between 2009 and 2015 (to about 48 exabytes) with about 96% of this storage capacity being used for archiving.  Although optical discs are also used for archiving in the media and entertainment industry and there is a strong trend towards active archiving using hard disk based arrays, magnetic tape is and will be the dominate media for entertainment archiving for some time to come. 

The archive popularity of digital tape is due to the cost effectiveness of digital tape storage, including reduced operating costs since tapes sit in library shelves when they are not being accessed and therefore a tape storage library uses much less power than a disk drive array.  In addition digital tapes now have storage capacities of 1.5 TB per cartridge while Blu-ray optical discs with two layers only have a storage capacity of 50 GB.  Thus managing a sizable optical disc archive takes a lot more discs that if the content were stored on magnetic tapes.

The LTO trade group had its own booth at the 2010 NAB show where they showed the uses and had samples of LTO-5 tape cartridges and drivers presented a roadmap going out several years to LTO-8 that is slated to have uncompressed storage capacities of 12.8 TB per cartridge and data rates of 472 MB/s.  There were LTO tape products at many booths at the 2010 NAB.

Quantum announced the introduction of their Scalar i6000 tape library earlier in April.  The Scalar i6000 tape library provides up to 16 PB of storage capacity with LTO-5 tapes.  Quantum tape libraries combined with the company’s well known StorNext file sharing and data protection product are extensively used for media and entertainment content protection. 
Spectra Logic displayed their huge T-Finity tape library systems that can store 45 petabytes in a single library and 180 petabytes in a library complex using LTO-5 tapes.  Tape systems were also on display at IBM where the company demonstrated a Linux compatible tape system, a partially complete Mac OS system and discussed Windows tape support.  IBM plans full support for LTO-5 products in the media and entertainment industry.
An interesting feature in LTO-5 tape format is that it has built in support for file-based access of content on the tapes.  Thus LTO-5 drives can provide a NAS-like access which was only seen in prior NABs at the Quantum booth.  Quantum spun off this activity to a company Cache-A in the last year.  Cache-A was at the 2010 NAB show displaying their Pro-Cache Archive Appliance targeted for the digital film, broadcast and digital video markets.  The Pro-Cache network-attached archive appliance enables creative professionals to create source masters in acquisition workflows when using flash memory card or disk-based cameras.  It also provides long-term archival storage with easy access at every stage of production.

 The rack-mountable Pro-Cache offers an internal 2TB of RAID configurable as either striped for maximum speed (RAID 0) or for 100% protection with mirrored reliability (RAID 1).  With its additional ExpressCard and eSATA connections, Pro-Cache provides fast archiving of direct connected storage.  It also features SAS connections for high-speed mounts and expansion as well as a sturdy three rack unit (3RU)/half rack chassis for industrial compatibility.  

Quantum, IBM and HP LTO tape drives were on display at the NAB show (as members of the LTO consortium) in their own as well as in partner and integrator booths.

For-A, a private Japanese company long known for providing electronic products for the media and entertainment industry showed a very interesting LTO-5 product at the 2010 NAB show.  Their LTR-100HS Video Archive Recorder includes an LTO-5 drive, 2 TB hard drive, HD/SD-SDI I/O, and LCD monitor. Other features include front panel playback controls with a convenient jog/shuttle wheel, RS-422 for external VTR control, gigabit Ethernet interface for file-based I/O, and USB 2.0 interface for barcode reader, PC keyboard, or USB storage. 

The LTR-100HS makes file ingest workflow more efficient and reduces archive space requirements. Equipped with a high quality MPEG-2 codec, the LTR-100HS includes an MXF wrapper/un-wrapper, so MXF files (XDCAM HD/HD422/IMX) recorded to LTO-5 tape can be used directly by many NLE systems. LTO-5 tape cartridges can store approximately 50 hours of programming recorded at 50 Mbps.  This product as well as other lower cost archive products using LTO-5 tapes may do a lot to help convert the millions of hours of analog video tape libraries throughout the world to digital form.  This will help preserve this content and make it accessible for repurposing and generating revenue.   
Many other companies (including VARs and systems integrators) were showing LTO-5 tape products at the 2010 NAB Show.  All the major media manufacturers of tape media had LTO-5 cartridges on display at the NAB show (Fujifilm, Imation, Maxell, Sony and TDK).   Xendata, known primarily for their archiving software showed a prototype of a single LTO-5 tape drive in their booth.  It is clear that the next generation of linear digital tape systems will help drive the enormous predicted growth in digital content archives as well as help preserve and repurpose older analog content assets.