IBM's cartridge can store 330TB data
IBM's new cartridge can store 330TB of uncompressed dataREUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

IBM Research, in collaboration with Sony Corporation, has developed a prototype storage cartridge – called sputtered magnetic tape - that can store as much as 330 terabytes of uncompressed data and fit into the palm of your hand.

The new cartridge comes with the industry's highest areal recording density (the amount of digital information that can be stored in a given area of surface) at 201 gigabits per square inch and is capable of capturing 20 times more data than conventional tape drives, which could only store 15TB.

The breakthrough achievement was jointly announced by the two tech giants on Wednesday (2 August 2), at the 28th Magnetic Recording Conference in Japan. Tape storage drives have been in use for over 60 years and according to IBM, their latest milestone indicates "storage on tapes will continue to scale up for another decade". The first tape unit from the company used reels of half-inch-wide tape and could only hold about 2MB of data.

"Tape has traditionally been used for video archives, backup files, replicas for disaster recovery and retention of information on premise, but the industry is also expanding to off-premise applications in the cloud," said IBM fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou in a statement. Over the past few years, the development of IoT, big data, and cloud services has created new markets where high-capacity storage devices can be put into use.

Sputtered magnetic tape development

In order to develop the new sputtered tape, IBM combined its newly developed write/read heads, advanced servo control technologies and innovative signal-processing algorithms with Sony's new magnetic tape technology. The two organisations worked closely for years to increase areal recording densities to as much as 201 gigabits per square inch.

"The results of this collaboration have led to various improvements in the media technology, such as advanced roll-to-roll technology for long sputtered tape fabrication and better lubricant technology, which stabilizes the functionality of the magnetic tape," Eleftheriou added. Sony developed a low-friction lubricant technology for achieving high-capacity writing and high-speed reading on this tape.

The manufacturing cost of this cartridge is expected to be a little higher than current commercial tapes but the cost per terabyte, according to Eleftheriou, will be very "attractive", thanks to its advanced high capacity.

Sony now hopes to build on this development to commercialise the next-generation of tape storage media with advanced technologies.