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IBM Adds Punch To LTO 5 Tape

Along with other vendors, IBM is announcing the latest generation in Linear Tape-Open (LTO) tape technology--Ultrium 5 tape drives. This new generation is attractive to IT organizations that either use or may be planning to use LTO tape technology in terms of feeds and speeds that follow the typical high-technology, evolutionary path of providing "better, faster, cheaper" capabilities. But IBM is also offering two new differentiating capabilities that add extra punch to its announcement.

The LTO program has been one of the most outstanding examples of successful business collaboration among competing vendors. The setting of an open standard for open systems magnetic tape technology has resulted in the near or complete extermination of what were once competitive, proprietary product lines, such as Quantum's DLT and Sony's AIT products. LTO technology's successful marketplace acceptance came about from increasing customers' freedom of choice for buying open systems tape technology. Although HP, IBM, and Quantum jointly define the standard for each generation of LTO technology--called the Ultrium format--any company can obtain a license and develop either tape media or tape drives that meet the requirements for a particular Ultrium generation. The result is that any Ultrium-compatible tape media can operate in any Ultrium tape drive of compatible generations. This interoperability and the fact that a number of manufacturers make tape drives and tape media creates a robust and competitive market, following an example amply demonstrated through the adoption of standards throughout history.

The LTO specifications describe what needs to be done, not how a manufacturer goes about achieving that goal, so the basics are common. Among those basics are the "feeds and speeds" everyone is looking for and Ultrium 5 is impressive on that front. The native physical capacity of a tape cartridge is 1.5TB, which typically turns into 3TB after compression, following the general guidelines of 2:1 compression and recognizing that "your mileage may vary" depending upon the actual data being compressed. The LTO 5 tape drives can operate up to a native 140MB/sec data transfer rate, which doubles in the typical case where the data has been compressed on tape.

Of course, IBM, as one of the prime movers in the LTO program, keeps up with the competitive "Joneses." IBM announced its LTO 5 tape drives--both a full-height and half-height tape drives. The half-height drive is designed to handle small-to-medium workload requirements; whereas, the fullheight drive is designed for medium-to-large workload requirements. The tape drives have generational backwards compatibility in that they can read/write the prior generation (Ultrium 4) tape cartridges and read data on Ultrium 3 tape cartridges. That is critical because tape-using IT organizations need to preserve their investment in older media and move in a gradual and planned manner to the new technology.

Tape libraries are not part of the LTO specifications, but tape libraries that use LTO tape drives must work with Ultrium 5-based tape drives. IBM supports the use of LTO 5 in its IBM System Storage TS3500 Tape Library and plans to introduce it to its entire line of auto-loaders and libraries. This is one area where the evolution of LTO becomes quite clear. We used to talk about maximum capacity in TBs; now we talk double-digit PBs. The TS3500 tape library can hold almost 2PB of LTO 5 data on 10 square feet in a high-density frame and up to 30PB of uncompressed storage capacity if the library were to be expanded to its maximum. That's a lot of storage by any measure.

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