IBM Just Made a Huge Advancement in Media Technology

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Sometimes huge breakthroughs come in tiny packages. A collaboration between IBM and Sony just broke the world record for most gigabits per square inch on prototype sputtered magnetic tape. The new record is 201 gigabits — 20 times more than what fits on current commercial tape drives. IBM and Sony announced the results of the project at the 28th Magnetic Recording Conference (TMRC 2017) in Tsukuba, Japan, on August 2nd.

The Project, Explained

The project’s researchers managed to place 330 terabytes of uncompressed data into a cartridge that’s small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. That’s the same amount of information as about 330 million books. This achievement required IBM and Sony to develop several new technologies. They had to create new advanced roll-to-roll capabilities and improve the lubricant used in magnetic tape. These advancements enabled this project in a big way, but could help other ones be successful as well.

IBM Research in Zurich brought to the table its newly created write/read heads, servo control technologies and signal-processing algorithms. Sony contributed its new magnetic tape lubricant.

Decreasing the size of the device required closing the gaps between components. However, this in turn created higher amounts of friction. The advanced lubricant was able to reduce this friction and allow the tape to run smoothly. The lubricant also holds reliably to the magnetic tape.

The project also endeavored to decrease the number of gas impurities created during the formation of magnetic layers. This process, used in combination with sputter deposition, allowed for a longer tape size. This sets the stage for tape cartridges to be able to hold larger amounts of tape.

Background Info on Tape Drives

Tape drives were first invented around 60 years ago. The first tape unit from IBM could hold two megabytes and used reels of half-inch tape. Sony and IBM’s recent accomplishment demonstrates just how far the industry has come.

The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and other advancements that have increased the amount of data we collect — as well as the spread of cloud storage and computing — created the demand for improvements in data storage. The amount of data we collectively generate is growing at a rapid pace. In fact, it doubles about every two years. Needless to say, as the sheer amount of available digital information increases, so does our need for compact, cost-effective storage methods.

The Future of Data Storage and Transmission

Other technologies must continue advancing as well, in order to keep up with the ballooning amount of data that must be stored. For example, CAT 8 cables were specifically designed for huge data centers and to support the growing need for data management and distribution. Tech companies also need to innovate new cybersecurity strategies, which sometimes involve the use of artificial intelligence to detect potential threats.

Movers and shakers in the industry are constantly proposing, researching and developing new storage technologies. Bit-patterned media, for instance, stores data in small islands rather than on a continuous film. Replacing the air inside of hard drives with helium has been shown to reduce friction, require less power and expand capacity.

A team of researchers recently demonstrated that they could use DNA to store data at a density of 215 petabytes per gram. This is dense enough to, in theory, store all of data the human race has generated to date within one single room.

The milestone recently reached by Sony and IBM demonstrates significant advancements in the data storage industry. As the amount of data we generate increases exponentially, we’ll likely see other major innovations come to the forefront as well.

Contributed by: Kayla Matthews, a technology writer and blogger covering big data topics for websites like Productivity Bytes, CloudTweaks, SandHill and VMblog.


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