LTO : 7th generation is here !
By   |  January 13, 2016

According to the Linear Tape Open (LTO) consortium, the death of tape backup has been greatly exaggerated. Even in these times where storage seems to blend flash and Cloud based storage, tape still has a bright future ahead of it as it fills needs unmet by other media. Explanations.

Three representatives of the LTO consortium agreed to answer our questions about the future of tape storage, on the eve of the availability of the seventh generation of the LTO format that will celebrate its fifteen years. They also offer us a glimpse of the next three generations. It is therefore the joint responses of Laura Loredo, Worldwide Director of Enterprise Storage and Servers at Hewlett Packard Enterprise LTO consortium representative, Shawn Haze, Business Line Manager, Data Protection & Retention at IBM and Terry Cochran, reponsable Marketing and Communications at Quantum Corporation who answered our questions.

The Interviewees

Laura Loredo is Worldwide Director of Enterprise Storage and Servers at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the LTO Consortium representative

Shawn Haze is Business Line Manager, Data Protection & Retention at IBM

What are the main characteristics of LTO-7 compared to previous generations?
LTO-7 more than doubles the tape cartridge capacity from the previous generation, including capacities of up to 15TB* per cartridge when compressed. The specifications include a doubling of read/write heads in an advanced servo format to help achieve higher track density, which means that more data may be written to the same amount of tape within the cartridge. New formulation advancements also provided stronger magnetic properties, helping to increase overall capacity.

Large files will also transfer more quickly on LTO-7 technology, with tape drive data transfer rates that are up to 750MB* per second, translated to more than 2.7 terabytes of data an hour per drive.

How does LTO-7 fit into storage architecture nowadays?
1 This next generation of LTO Ultrium technology, like those before it, works either as a standalone storage solution, or alongside cloud or disc in a hybrid environment. We’re finding that many users look to tape for storing and archiving huge files and amounts of content (such as 4K video) that don’t need to be accessed regularly.

A great example of how tape is being used is by cloud providers. Many cloud-based companies – such as a popular email provider/host – use LTO Ultrium format tape drives to back up the data hosted on the cloud. So when the cloud servers go down, data is not lost but instead, easily found and restored.

Is LTO-7 mostly adapted for near-line or long term storage, and why?
LTO technology is known as an active archive solution – meaning it works both as cold storage/archive, as well as an active, everyday storage solution. LTO Ulrium format tape drives now have the Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which revolutionized the way tape is used in a near-line capacity. So while tape is known for being easily stored offline and off-site to guard against online data corruption and natural disasters, it can also be accessed for regular file recovery, just as easily as disk storage.

Can you describe some typical use cases in which LTO tape technology is best suited for?
Linear Tape Open Technology is a powerful choice for a variety of environments. The technology is the backbone of a generation of super tape storage products that feature high capacity and performance. LTO technology is used in industries including media and entertainment, law enforcement, government and security, HPC, and more.

In addition to the cloud server backup mentioned above, we’re also seeing many law enforcement agencies turn to low cost tape technology to store the huge amount of video that is streamed on police officer body cameras. Huge amounts of data that needs to be stored for compliance and potential access down the line, and done at a low, less-than-$.01-per gigabyte cost.

Is LTO-7 still relevant in modern high-speed usage scenarios? I am thinking about Big Data, Hadoop, Machine Learning for example.
LTO is very relevant, if not critical, for successful storage in modern, high-speed usage scenarios. Tape is the most cost-effective media for storing mass quantities of data, especially in HPC and big data environments. When using peak programs and equipment such as Hadoop, it’s important to demand peak performance from your data. When the value of data is at an all time high, it is imperative to have high performing, reliable storage. In any modern storage scenario, tape provides a low cost tier of storage that is easily managed within the unstructured file system. In a traditional, multi-copy storage architecture, lowering the cost to store the data while still allowing near instantaneous access is critical, tape is the best choice for second and or third copy of critical data in analytic workflows.

What interfaces are available for LTO-7 units?
LTO-7 tape drives are offered in several interfaces. Stand alone units are offered in Half high for factor with Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) 6Gb connectivity. SAS 6Gb is compatible with SAS3Gb, 6 Gb and 12Gb host bus adapters (HBA). Automation based LTO-7 solutions offer both Full high and Half high form factors available in both Fibre Channel (FC) 8Gb and SAS 6Gb. The flexibility of the LTO-7 tape technology has enabled third party manufacturers to offer other interfaces for connectivity in a variety of manners.

When will the first LTO-7 media be available?
LTO-7 media has been licensed for production by Sony and Fujifilm after passing interchange testing, so units will be available shorty, though that is dependent on the timelines of each individual manufacturer.

Previous generations are still available from any of the major manufacturers, and we encourage users to only purchase the technology with the Ultrium format trademark. The Ultrium format trademark identifies products that have passed annual third-party compliance verification to ensure compliance with the Ultrium tape format specification. Use of this trademark is granted only after an Ultrium tape format product has passed the compliance verification testing process.

Who are the manufacturers for LTO products?
The following companies are current LTO Format Specification Participants that have delivered LTO compatible products and components: Atmel, Fujifilm, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Imation, Maxell, Mountain Engineering, Netc, NXP Semiconductors, Quantum, Sony, Spectra Logic, TDK, Teijin Dupont Film and Toray Industries. Fujifilm and Sony have both passed compliance verification requirements to sell LTO-7 cartridges.

In terms of roadmap, what lies ahead for LTO tape technology? (capacity and evolutionary steps and dates?)
The LTO Ultrium roadmap addresses complex storage needs over time, and builds out a plan to continually increase capacity and speed. LTO generation 7 technology offers an unprecedented 15TB compressed capacity and transfer speeds up to 750MB/s. While the LTO Program is thrilled to offer such a high degree of capacity and speed, we also look to the future. LTO generation 8 is slated to offer up to 32TB compressed capacity and up to 1180MB/s transfer speed. LTO generation 9 goes further with up to 62.5TB capacity and up to 1770MB/s transfer, while LTO generation 10 will offer up to 120TB capacity and up to 2750MB/s. Each new generation of LTO technology nearly doubles capacity and speed capabilities, and new generations are released roughly every two years.

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