LTO org changes tape roadmap strategy, cuts LTO-9 capacity to build air-gapped ransomware defence for storage

LTO tape
LTO tape

The Linear Tape Open (LTO) organisation has cut the capacity of its next LTO-9 generation from  24TB raw to 18TB, saying it is balancing capacity and cost for the current market.

The current LTO-8 generation offers 12TB raw, 30TB compressed, and the LTO roadmap had gen 9 at 24TB raw, 64TB compressed, continuing the capacity-doubling feature of each generation. That has abruptly stopped with a new LTO-9 specification providing a 50 per cent capacity increase instead.

Without explaining the cut in the capacity increase rate, Chris Powers, HPE’s VP of Collaborative Platforms Development and Big Data, said in an announcement statement: “We are very excited at the future for LTO technology, and with increased capacity we are catering to the current and future market requirements for data storage.”

Prior LTO roadmap with 24TB raw LTO-9 tape

Helpfully the LTO announcement includes a quote from Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at ESG: “Tape’s role is shifting, which further enhances its value. Other than archiving massive data sets for active archives or longer retention at low cost, tape has the ability to create an isolated and ‘air-gapped’ layer. This emerging use case is perfect for keeping data out of reach of cyber-attackers.”

In other words we don’t actually need a doubled tape capacity with gen 9 because we can capably air-gap defend disk data against ransomware by using 18TB LTO-9 tapes. They and their drives will be less expensive than the previous LTO-9  spec’s 24TB tapes. The drives will not have to deliver as much of a throughput increase either. Before this LTO-9 capacity cut the LTO-9 roadmap throughput was up to 1,7790MB/sec of compressed data, which compares to LTO-8’s maximum 1,180MB/sec throughput.

The LTO org hasn’t publicly revealed the new LTO-9 spec’s throughput. It does say: “A new roadmap has been established with the goal to double capacity in each generation moving forward.” That roadmap has not been published. We have extrapolated our own LTO tape generation capacity table using that doubling goal:

New LTO roadmap with 18TB raw LTO-9 tape

The LTO organisation has three LTO Program Technology Provider Companies (TPCs): Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM and Quantum. They build and deliver tape drives which use tape cartridges manufactured by Fujifilm and Sony. Previously the LTO org said tape had a role in archiving data with its low-cost, long-term retention capability. Now ransomware defence is offering a new additional market for tape: air-gapped data storage immune to ransomware attacks.

The new LTO-9 specifications are now available for licensing. Quantum has announced that LTO Ultrium format generation 9 technology will be available in itsScalar-i6 and Scalar i6000 tape libraries, and StorNext-AEL archive systems beginning in December 2020.

Skipping LTO-8

Diana Salazar, product marketing manager, Quantum, told us: “Many of our customers decided to wait for LTO-9 and skip LTO-8 altogether due to the Fuji/Sony situation. Prices of LTO-7, LTO-8, and LTO-9 media change over time and this will determine what customers will opt for. 

“We will focus on providing ways for these customers to migrate their data over time as media prices decline, and we continue to believe tape has a strong future both for decades-long data storage and protection, and offline protection against cyberattacks.”