LTO tape shipments hit capacity record in 2019

A record 114,079 petabytes of total LTO tape capacity (compressed) shipped during 2019, according to the latest report from The LTO Program Technology Provider Companies (TPCs), while unit shipments continued to decline.

This increase in capacity shipments comes after a decline during 2018, which was due to a pause in manufacturing. Once tape cartridge production resumed, capacity shipments rose to record amounts in 2019, according to the TPCs, HPE, IBM and Quantum.

The pause in manufacturing was due to a patent dispute between the two firms that manufacture the actual tape media, Fujifilm and Sony, which crippled the global supply of LTO-8 tape media until a global patent cross-licensing deal was agreed last year. The TPCs are licensees of LTO-8 technology, officially certifying media supplied by Sony and Fujifilm.

This appears to be water under the bridge to the TPCs, which are instead keen to promote the benefits of the newer LTO-8 technology as insurance against data loss through ransomware as well as for everyday archiving and backup.

“As the datasphere continues to grow at astronomical rates and cybersecurity defense becomes a priority for organizations of all sizes, LTO tape technology remains a leading solution in addressing modern-day data storage needs,” said IBM’s VP for Storage Offering Management Sam Werner, in a statement accompanying the report. This is because tape is offline storage, not directly accessible to ransomware and malware threats that may corrupt live data

However, media unit shipments have been on almost continuous decline for much of the past decade, partly due to the increasing capacity of successive tape generations allowing customers to store more on fewer tape cartridges, but also because compatibility means customers can continue to use older media with new equipment.

LTO-8 technology offers up to 30TB of compressed capacity, with transfer speeds of up to 360 MB/sec native and 750 MB/sec compressed. The TPCs claim that these speeds compare favourably with some modern disk drives with transfer rates in the order of 210 MB/sec.

Last month, Fujifilm detailed plans for a future 400TB tape cartridge technology, 33 times larger than the current LTO-8 cartridge.

LTO tape’s features make it a critical component of any modern-day data storage infrastructure, according to the TPCs. It offers secure and reliable long-term archival storage, at a cost substantially lower than disk or cloud storage when considering factors such as power, cooling and retrieval.