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What is LTO?

Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Technology is type of technology that uses magnetic tape data storage. It was originally developed in the late 1990s as an open standards alternative to the proprietary magnetic tape formats from that period of time. The direction for management of licensing and standards, along with research and development is governed by LTO Consortium, a body collectively controlled by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, and Quantum.

LTO Ultrium is a high capacity, single-reel tape storage solution developed and continually enhanced by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM and Quantum and promoted by the LTO Program. It’s a powerful, scalable, and adaptable tape format that helps address the growing demands of data protection. It’s also an open format, licensed by some of the most prominent names in the storage industry to ensure a broad range of compatible tape drives and cartridges.


LTO technology features a write-once, read-many (WORM) capability to ensure that your data isn’t overwritten and also help address compliance regulations. LTO Program WORM implementation is designed to provide users a very cost effective means of storing data in a non-rewriteable format to address compliance regulations.


LTO technology features strong encryption capabilities to enhance security and privacy during storage and transport of LTO tape cartridges. It seems like every day that a company experiences a breach in security and exposes confidential or private information. That’s why recent generation LTO tape drives features one of the strongest encryption capabilities available to help protect the most sensitive data stored on tape cartridges.


Recent generations of LTO technology include a partitioning feature, which help to enhance file control and space management via LTFS. Starting with Generation 5, LTO technology specifications include a partitioning feature that allows for a new standard in ease-of-use and portability: LTFS.

Why LTO?

Your digital assets aren’t just important to you, they’re important to us too. With LTO technology, you can rest assured that your digital assets are protected in a simple, cost-effective, and secure system.  Learn more about how LTO technology meets your most critical needs.

The Tape Advantage

Tape remains unrivaled in terms of cost for capacity, reliability, portability and security, and it continues to play a crucial role in data protection. Tape can also complement a disk-based storage system by providing an offline or backup option. This means that your data can remain protected in the event of malware or a data security breach.

Tape and Disk Together

Tape works well with disk solutions to address different needs. Disk can help with fast backup and retrieval for high performance application needs, but once data becomes infrequently accessed it should be moved to tape. According to a University of California-Santa Cruz three month study, more than 90 percent of disk stored data was typically never accessed again, and another 6.5 percent was only accessed once. This data could be stored on cost-effective tape. Tape is well-suited for this type of data, as it is a less expensive and less energy-consuming storage medium. Once data becomes infrequently accessed it should be moved to tape.

Looking to sell surplus used tape media? Learn how to get the most money possible.

The Ultimate Safety Net: Off-line Tape Storage: What good is backed-up data if it’s corrupt?  Believe it or not, it’s actually common for a replicating disk-to-disk backup system to be wiped out by a system error. That’s why having an offline copy of data is so important. Imagine if you were providing services to thousands of bloggers and all of their data got wiped out. This could happen, especially if the backup plan involved one disk drive replicating its data to another drive. A system error could erase the data on one drive leading the other drive to erase the backup data as well. This could result in a big disaster if there was no offline data available for a restore. Consider another scenario – what if your system consisted of two servers backing each other up – and hackers were able to take out both of the site’s servers, rendering all information culled from years of hard work useless? Without offline backup data to provide recovery it could be disastrous. The LTO Ultrium format’s future direction, road map and intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice and represent goals and objectives only.


LTO tapes and drives are interchangeable, regardless of vendor. In fact, it has been adopted by some of the most respectable names in the storage industry.

High Performance

The latest generation of LTO technology offers up to 6.25 TB of capacity and up to 400 MB/s of throughput.


Tape is one of the most proven storage technologies available.


Tapes secured offline aren’t susceptible to data loss due to mistake or malicious intent.

Generations of LTO

Despite the initial plans for two form-factors of LTO technology, only Ultrium was ever produced. In common usage, LTO generally refers to the Ultrium form factor.

As of 2020, nine generations of LTO Ultrium technology have been made available and three more are planned. Between generations, there are strict compatibility rules that describe how, and which drives and cartridges can be used together.

Market performance

In the course of its existence, LTO has succeeded completely displacing all other low-end/mid-range tape technologies such as AIT, DLT, DAT/DDS, and VXA. And after the exit of Oracle StorageTek T10000 of the high-end market, only the IBM 3592 series is still under active development. LTO also competes against hard disk drives (HDDs), and its continuous improvement has prevented the predicted “death of tape” at the hands of disk.

The presence of five certified media manufacturers and four certified mechanism manufacturers for a while produced a competitive market for LTO products. However, as of 2019, there are only two manufacturers developing media, Sony, and Fuji, and only IBM is developing mechanisms.

Benefits/drawbacks of magnetic tape

Tape capacity continues to grow at a consistent rate. A reliable product roadmap is a plus for LTO users, as they know a new edition will come out every two to three years and will likely double the previous edition’s capacity.

Storing 30 TB of compressed data on an LTO-8 tape is generally less expensive than using flash or hard disk for that type of storage. LTO tape also does not require electricity for storage and can last up to 30 years. In addition, LTO-7 and LTO-8 tapes have a bit error rate of 1 x 10-19, which the LTO Program says is four times better than disk.

Barium ferrite on LTO cartridges has demonstrated the potential of providing uncompressed capacities per tape cartridge of up to 220 TB. Even with large capacities, LTO is portable.

The 12 TB of uncompressed capacity in LTO-8 can hold up to 7,140,000 photos; 2,880,000 songs; or 8,000 movies, according to tape library and media vendor Spectra Logic. With businesses frequently storing terabytes or petabytes of data, capacity is an important part of storage.

The open tape format makes for a more competitive environment, leading to innovation and enhancements. LTO products, though, are not compatible with non-LTO products.

Tape has linear access. In addition to providing faster restore speeds, a hard disk offers random access. As a result, a disk may be better for backup than magnetic tape.

However, when an organization accesses certain data less frequently, it should move that data to tape, according to the LTO Consortium. For example, archived data, which is commonly kept for compliance and regulatory reasons, is not usually needed right away and can find a good home on tape.

The cloud has become popular for backup. It is easily scalable and provides random access. Cloud storage can be cheaper than tape, especially for SMBs that don’t create the volumes of data that enterprises using tape can produce. Restoring data from the cloud, though, is often slow, especially if it is a large volume of data or there is weak bandwidth.

Digital linear tape (DLT) is another type of magnetic tape used for storage and archiving. Digital Equipment Corp. developed the DLT technology in the 1980s. In 1994, Quantum purchased the technology. Quantum has since adopted the LTO standard. DLT tapes are still available from Quantum and other manufacturers.

Recycling your used tapes is easier than you thought…

Major vendors

On its website, the LTO Program lists manufacturers that have passed compliance verification requirements to sell LTO Ultrium-branded tape drives and cartridges. As of June 2018, they include:

  • Fujifilm
  • HPE
  • IBM
  • Imation (now Glassbridge Enterprises)
  • Maxell
  • NXP Semiconductors
  • Quantum
  • Sony
  • Spectra Logic
  • Teijin DuPont Films

LTO trends and future direction

As of June 2018, the LTO roadmap has been projected to the 12th generation. All future generations on the roadmap are expected to feature WORM, encryption and LTFS.

LTO-9: Expected to provide 24 TB of uncompressed capacity and 60 TB compressed. As of June 2018, the LTO Consortium had not announced a launch date for LTO-9, nor the expected data transfer rates.

LTO-10: Expected to provide 48 TB of uncompressed capacity and 120 TB compressed.

LTO-11: Expected to provide 96 TB of uncompressed capacity and 240 TB compressed.

LTO-12: Expected to provide 192 TB of uncompressed capacity and 480 TB compressed.

Because each new version provides a large capacity increase, and with LTO drives now only able to read back one generation, users will be more likely to upgrade to a newer LTO tape format right away.

There is still a lot of room to grow LTO cartridge capacity. In August 2017, IBM and Sony announced they have developed technology that can support about 330 TB of uncompressed storage per tape cartridge.