StorageTek’s New Exabyte Storage Silo

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Robin Harris is an analyst who tracks emerging IT technologies and writes about the storage sector at Storage Mojo and Storage Bits.

Exabyte? You may not need a 1,000 Petabytes today, but wait 10 years. But size isn’t the most impressive thing about the new drive.

Oracle/Sun/StorageTek’s new tape drive is the StorageTek T10000C. It uses a new head/media combo to deliver high capacity and performance.

With a 5 TB native capacity and normal 2x compression, each cartridge can store 10 TB of data. On STK’s 100,000 slot silo, that’s 1 EB.

New media
Key to the capacity is the use of a new medium, Barium-Ferrite (BaFe) tape. BaFe has a couple of big advantages over today’s metal particle tapes.

  • Fujifilm’s BaFe particles are 1/3rd the size of metal particles. Smaller particles = higher density and higher coercivity.
  • Even better, unlike metal particles, BaFe doesn’t rust. Today’s metal particle tapes need ceramic coating to protect against oxidation, an extra processing step BaFe – which is very stable – doesn’t need.

Of course, a new tape without a new tape head to take advantage of it is useless.

The drive
StorageTek built a new 32 track read/write head. Thirty-two tracks means that the drive can write more data at a slower tape speed, reducing tape and head wear. And each drive has 2 heads.

But the most impressive number? They spec an unrecoverable read error rate of 1×10-19 – 1,000 times better than enterprise disks.

In addition, the drive supports compression and wire speed AES-256 encryption. With compression, the drive can write 360 MB/sec or 240 MB/s native.

Life span
How long will archive data last on these new tapes?

Fujifilm did accelerated life testing for 30(?!?) days and claim the new tapes have a 30 year life span. Given BaFe’s stability that doesn’t seems unreasonable.

Of course, tape life is more typically limited by the life of the binder that holds the magnetic particles on the tape as well as how many head passes the media is spec’d for. Data center managers will feel safer if they replace the media every 3 to 5 years.

The data center take
STK says that Oracle has increased investments in drive engineering and field support. That makes sense as Oracle has a firmer grasp of the data center market than Sun ever did.

The move to BaFe is a good one. It puts tape ahead of the largest available disk drives, key to keeping large data stores on tape.

With 3 TB drives coming to market, 5/10 TB tape cartridges keep tape in the game. And BaFe has legs: last year Fujifilm demo’d its potential to grow to 70 TB compressed on a single LTO cartridge.

Expect to see an LTO version in the not too distant future. It won’t be as fast or as large, but it should keep LTO ahead of the disk guys too.

Comments welcome, of course. When I looked at the 70 TB technology demo last year I wasn’t sure that it would get to market in time. But disk capacity increases have slowed too, so the timing has worked out well for STK.

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