Many websites have been talking about the return of the cassette tape with the announcement of Sony’s new storage medium innovation. Yes, Sony has managed to innovate a new standard for magnetic tape drive storage, however these tape drives require a fairly large 5.25″ mounted LTO reader which is usually connected via SAS to a server as a backup to the hard drives on the server. Sony has improved upon the LTO-6 Ultrium standard of magnetic tape drive systems and instead has improved the storage capacity per square inch by 74x. Resulting in a final drive density of 185 TB per tape drive based upon an unheard of areal density of 148 Gb per square inch, which comes out to 18 GB of storage per square inch when converted from Gigabits to Gigabytes. This is possible because of Sony’s new magnetic and chemical composition of their tape drives and how they are able to pack so much data density into such a small space.
Essentially, Sony’s approach is far more precise and results in capturing more data into a smaller area, which allows for significantly more data density within effectively the same surface area. The images above show how Sony’s approach (and results) thanks to IBM’s testing have enabled this astonishing breakthrough. IBM was brought onto the project to evaluate and benchmark the tape drive technology’s actual density, even though Sony is the sole owner of this technology.
What does this mean for us? Absolutely nothing. This technology is almost exclusively going to get used by the enterprise in large server deployments and data backup deployments. These tape drives are designed to be a long term backup to the backups of your data. That way, if there are any critical errors on the hard drives, there are backups of those drives somewhere on tape because buying one of these tapes is still cheaper than buying a hard drive of equal capacity especially since they don’t require power to store the data and only need power when being pulled to be read by the LTO drive.
So no, cassette tapes are not making a comeback, but Sony has potentially vastly improved the value in using tape drives for backups and could have possibly made themselves the defacto standard for the future if their data density provides a good enough value to the enterprise customer. Also, remember, that Sony has recently also developed a new physical media standard in their Archival Disc which they developed with Panasonic and is currently capable of storing 300GB of data per disc and is aiming to store up to 1TB per disc.