Believe it or not, IBM and Fujifilm have done something no one would have even imagined possible a few short years ago. They made it possible to fit 580TB of data storage into a single tape cartridge. That’s 32 times greater than current and most advanced storage medium the LTO-9 tape. After both IBM and Fujifilm teamed up to bring the tape world a 220TB tape in 2015, using barium ferrite (BaFe) technology; IBM and Sony partnered to develop the 330TB tape, in 2017. Now IBM resumed their partnership with Fujifilm and brought the storage world a 580TB capacity tape.
You may have noticed how hard drives tend to differ in size, but tape cartridges have always remained the same. Their reliability and durability are unmatched. Don’t get me wrong, stuffing a full terabyte of storage onto an SD card the size of a button is an incredible accomplishment, but when it comes to cost and reliability, magnetic tape is still the preferred method for archiving data.
Thanks to evolution of cloud computing over the past decade or two, you don’t really need to worry about getting the most amount of storage capacity in a new laptop or smartphone. Streaming music and backing up photos and videos to an online service takes a lot of demand off the storage capabilities of your devices. Essentially, it’s hundreds of data centers around that are hoarding your data for you. The technology focused world we live in is made up endlessly growing storage demands, but not all of it is on hard drives.
When mentioning magnetic tape as a data storage medium, those unfamiliar with the recent advances in technology might envision cassette tapes, VHS tapes, or even round reel tapes of decades past. Unbeknownst to many, magnetic tape has not only made leaps and bounds in the digital storage space, but currently holds several advantages over other formats such as hard disk or optical disk storage.
Magnetic tape storage currently relies on the Linear Tape-Open, or LTO, format with LTO-9 being the highest capacity available today at 18 TB per cartridge—or 45 TB when that data is compressed which slows down the entire read/write process. LTO-9 doubles storage capacities of the previous LTO8 generation. However, earlier this year Fujifilm discovered a revolution that could push tape storage capacities to a staggering 480 TB in the near future.
How did FujiFilm an IBM make a tape cartridge with massive storage capacities?
The main ingredient that makes magnetic tape what it is today is Barium Ferrite. Barium Ferrite is a new type of magnetic particle which can be greatly reduced in size to improve recording density without magnetic signal loss. Barium Ferrite was first seen in the sixth generation LTO tape (LTO6) and continued to be used in every following generation of LTO. Currently, Barium Ferrite is used with NANOCUBIC technology for a thin and uniformly coated magnetic layer. This technology is patented by Fujifilm.
Development of fine SrFe magnetic particles
Fujifilm has successfully developed SrFe magnetic particles, which have higher magnetic characteristics and 60% less particle volume compared to BaFe particles used in current magnetic tape media (Figure 2). They demonstrate excellent recording/read back performance with low noise.
Similarly, to BaFe, SrFe is an oxide and therefore is very stable chemically, suggesting expectations of excellent performance in long-term data storage.
Enhanced perpendicular orientation of SrFe magnetic particles
Formulation of fine particles typically creates difficulty in achieving their even dispersion. Fujifilm has applied a new dispersant formula and unique process technology to establish precise particle dispersion, thereby maximizing the performance of fine SrFe magnetic particles. Evenly dispersed SrFe magnetic particles are then arranged perpendicularly to achieve a high signal-to-noise ratio.
Improved smoothness of magnetic tape surface
The use of a newly developed smooth non-magnetic layer (underlayer) has reduced unevenness in the interface between the magnetic layer and the non-magnetic layer, improving the smoothness of the tape surface. This allows a magnetic head to get closer to the tape surface (low spacing) when reading signals, recorded in the magnetic layer, boosting signal detection accuracy and replay output performance.
Development of high-precision servo writing technology
Fujifilm has developed a unique tape-handling technology to control tape vibrations when writing servo patterns. Fluctuation of servo signals is minimized to maximize drive tracking performance, as assessed by IBM Research, thereby achieving high-density data recording across the tape width.