Sony's 185TB tape: What does it mean for storage?

The R&D guys at Sony announced a real breakthrough: Nanotech that enables uniform crystalline orientation on tape - and ultra-high density. Will it save tape?

This is cool technology: Sony researchers developed a soft magnetic underlayer using sputtering, a deposition technique commonly used for chips. Here's a Sony diagram of the tape cross-section:

Courtesy of Sony Corporation


The underlayer made it possible to deposit 7.7nm magnetic particles uniformly on the tape. The particle's small size and uniformity enabled the record-smashing 18.5GB/in<sup>2</sup> density.

The Storage Bits take
Demonstrating this density is a great start: It gives customers a reason to stay with tape for the next 10 years. But unless Sony can accelerate time to market, we're not likely to see it in a product.

New tape formulations also require new heads optimized for the nanotechnology. New heads are complex and expensive to develop.

The read/write electronics will also have to be able to handle 74 times more data if tape speed remains constant. Tape drives will have to achieve even higher precision required for much denser tracks — and precision mechanics are not easy or cheap.

They'll also have to answer for durability and robustness. Today's LTO tapes only support 200 complete reads or writes, making 3-bit per cell flash look like granite by comparison. And how will the tape hold up in long-term storage?

While the economics of the tape business are trending against it, this is a magnificent technical achievement. It shows us what is possible with this venerable media type, but not what is likely.

Comments welcome. Where would 185TB tapes make sense in your organization?