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IBM Researchers Set World Record In Magnetic Tape Data Density

IBM researchers announced they have demonstrated a world record in data density on linear magnetic tape, an indication that one of the computer industry's oldest and still most affordable data storage technologies has the potential to provide increased capacity for years to come.

The researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA, packed data onto a test tape at a density of 6.67 billion bits per square inch -- more than 15 times the data density of today's most popular industry standard magnetic tape products. To achieve this feat they created several new data-recording technologies and worked with Fuji Photo Film of Japan to develop a next-generation dual-coat magnetic tape capable of storing high-density data.

The demonstration shows that magnetic tape data storage should be able to maintain its cost advantage over other technologies for years to come. When these new technologies and tape become available in products - projected to be in about five years - a cartridge the size of an industry-standard Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape cartridge could hold up to 8 trillion bytes (terabytes) of uncompressed data. This is 20 times the capacity of today's LTO-Generation 3 cartridge, which is about half the size of a VHS videocassette.

The test tape (left) vs. the standard magnetic tape (right).

IBM's achievement leverages improvements in five areas of the magnetic tape system:

  • New high-density dual-coated particulate magnetic tape -- this next-generation version of its NANOCUBIC tape uses a new barium-ferrite magnetic media that enables high-density data recording without using expensive metal sputtering or evaporation coating methods.
  • More sensitive read-write head -- for the first time, magnetic tape technology employs the sensitive giant-magnetoresistive (GMR) head materials and structures used to sense very small magnetic fields in hard disk drives.
  • GMR servo reader -- new GMR servo-reading elements, software and fast-and-precise positioning devices provides an active feedback system with unprecedented 0.35-micron accuracy in monitoring and positioning the read-write head over the 1.5-micron-wide residual data track.
  • Improved tape-handling features -- flangeless, grooved rollers permit smoother high-speed passage of the tape, which also enhances the ability of the head to write and read high-density data.
  • Innovative signal processing algorithms for the read data channel -- an advanced read channel used new "noise-predictive, maximum-likelihood" (NPML) software developed at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory to process the captured data faster and more accurately than would have been possible with existing methods.

The demonstration was performed at product-level tape speeds (4 meters per second) and achieved error rates that should be correctable, using advanced error-correction techniques, to meet IBM's specification for its LTO-3 products.

Source: IBM

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