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LTO Takes Giant Step

Los Angeles, CA—The Linear Tape- Open or LTO magnetic tape storage format took an important evolutionary step forward in its fifth generation, adding certain hard disklike capabilities.

LOS ANGELES, CA—The Linear Tape- Open or LTO magnetic tape storage format took an important evolutionary step forward in its fifth generation, adding certain hard disklike capabilities. LTO’s new Linear Tape File System (LTFS) is a selfdescribing format that allows the computer to which the LTO-5 drive is attached to search, access and manipulate the stored files and folders in a similar manner to nonlinear harddisk drives (HDD).

Magnetic tape has become the predominant format for long-term archive storage, especially in the media and entertainment (M&E) industries. According to a recent Coughlin Associates professional M&E survey, magnetic tape accounts for 36 percent of all storage assets, versus 24 percent for HDDs, the next most popular archival format.

The open format was introduced in 2000. To date, nearly four million tape drives and about 200 million cartridges (the current form factor is known as Ultrium) have reportedly been shipped worldwide, to all industries.

The latest development improves LTO’s ease of use. “LTO-5 has a new capability to segment the tape into two partitions, like a C and a D drive on a disc,” explains Bruce Master, IBM, senior program manager, tape marketing. IBM is one of three manufacturers that comprise the LTO Consortium, along with Hewlett- Packard and Quantum.

“It stores index and metadata information in the first, small partition and the content in the second, very large partition. When the tape is loaded, the index and metadata is read into the memory of the workstation or server, and from that point on, we’re able to know where the content is on the tape just by reading that from the memory.”

When mounted, the tape’s file and folder directory tree structure appears in the computer’s browser, just like any other drive type. “We can drag and drop information to and from the tape,” says Master, “and we don’t need any other backup software.” Because LTFS is self-describing and does not require third-party software, the index will be immediately accessible when the tape is loaded in years to come.

LTO-5 also offers cross-platform portability, he notes, “When we’re done, we can take that tape and hand it to another user with an LTO-5 drive or they can access it over the network.”

The tape format is remarkably energy efficient, as Mark Pastor, strategic business manager at Quantum, notes. “Given the way that tape technology works in general, the drives and the cartridges are passive until they’re needed. Whereas, alternative storage mechanisms, particularly disk drives, tend to need to be kept powered on and spinning to maintain access. The tradeoff with tape is there’s a bit of latency, because the tape has to be loaded into the cartridge. But the benefit is the cost of operation.”

A study conducted by The Clipper Group for the LTO Consortium quantified and compared the comparative costs associated with the different storage formats, says Laura Loredo, HP’s worldwide product marketing manager for LTO tape marketing. “The cost of ownership for disk was several times greater than for tape,” she reports. “The most amazing statistic was that the cost of energy alone for the disk system was higher than the total cost of ownership for the tape.”

LTO-5’s storage capacity is 1.5 terabytes native, double the previous generation. LTO-6 (manufacturers are already taking preorders) will offer 3.2 TB native or 8 TB compressed. “We are increasing the buffer for the compression in the hardware, and that is allowing us to do a 2.5:1 compression ratio,” explains Loredo, “with up to a 210 MB/sec transfer rate; compressed, it’s 525.”

Cross-generational compatibility is written into the LTO development roadmap, which extends to LTO-8. “Up to now, we have always offered two generations of backward compatibility. We always have one generation back of write compatibility,” says Loredo.

Master reports that post-production house FotoKem in Burbank, CA benefits from media savings by storing video data from about 100 XDCAM disks on a single LTO-5 tape. “Those disks are in short supply [due to last year’s natural disasters affecting production], and now they can reuse those disks and put them back in the cameras, because they know they have a safe copy on tape,” he says.

LTFS software for LTO-5 is available for free download at any consortium member’s website. “It extends the operating system to now recognize and use that tape drive as if it were any other drive on the system,” says Master, “and that’s when you start to see if on the directory tree and can start doing drag-and-drop operations to and from the tape.”

LTO Consortium