The Linear Tape-Open (LTO) consortium along with some of the biggest names in tape storage (HPE, IBM and Quantum) have updated the LTO Ultrium roadmap.
After a five-year pregnancy, the group added a 13th and a 14th generation, reaching 288TB and 576TB uncompressed respectively (controversially, the tape industry usually adds 150% capacity to produce a second “to” compressed storage) .
As such, the compressed capacity of a Gen13 tape is expected to reach 720TB and that of a Gen14 number, a massive 1.44PB. In comparison: the largest hard drive currently stands at 22TB of 100TB the largest SSD capacity.
Tape to face serious headwinds?
The first LTO tape appeared 22 years ago and had a compressed capacity of 200 GB; the latest LTO-9 tape improved this number by 225 times (45TB) and shows no signs of slowing down.
Or does it? The transition from LTO-8 to LTO-9 was complicated for legal and technological reasons and instead of doubling the capacity, the consortium decided unilaterally already in 2020 to increase the capacity by 50%.
Given the two to three year gap between the mass availability of the latest generation of LTO tapes, with LTO-9 being the latest, LTO-14 may well occur in 15 years, assuming the consortium doesn’t. decides to reset the timeline.
By 2037, other technologies (DNA, Holographic, Optical, Glass) may have matured and evolved into a much greater threat to the venerable tape. Last year, we reported that LTO-10 would land sooner rather than later – but we’re still waiting.
One thing the announcement didn’t mention is the transfer rate, which currently stands at 0.75 GBps for LTO-8 and 1 GBps for LTO-9 (both compressed). A 33% generation improvement would bring the transfer rate for LTO-14 to around 4GBps, which can be very problematic for both archiving and retrieval given the storage capacity being considered.
As for pricing, LTO-9 tapes sell for about $8 per TB, with LTO-8 tapes being the cheapest at $4.50 cents per TB and LTO-7 tapes costing $6.30. Prices can be expected to drop significantly by the time LTO-14 finally hits the market, with less than $1 being a quasi-certainty. Readers are probably still expensive; the OWC Mercury Pro LTO-9 Tape Drive we reviewed in February 2022, sold for over $6,000.
That said, tape has its place in the tiered storage hierarchy: whether in cold storage (or for Cloud backup or cloud storage), like a protection against data loss tool to combat ransomware through air-gapping and as a regulatory compliance mechanism (e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA) through the WORM (Write Once, Read Many) function.