By Udita Shukla
International Business Machines or IBM scientists have developed a magnetic tape storage device capable of storing up to 330 TB of uncompressed data. It is not only a milestone, by the standards of magnetic storage technology, but also reflects the fact that we are still not done with conventional storage techniques. The areal density (amount of bits that can be stored on a surface of given length) of the prototype cartridge surpasses its counterparts by over twenty times.
The world is going ‘nano’, and the future seems no less than a science fiction. The technology to build ever smaller devices seems to have caught hold of the innovators. The socioeconomic, educational and bureaucratic systems of the time are more familiar with tiny solid state (SSD) chips used for hoarding information, while magnetic tapes or cartridges as an avenue for data storage is hardly dwelt upon.
Nostalgia or inertia for old storage techniques?
As much as we love using the minuscule flash drives, it cannot be denied that the traditional, bulky magnetic cartridges still stand flawless in their reliability and data continuity over long periods of time. Today, government research and financial institutions resort to magnetic storage for maintaining a consolidated mechanism for data backup; data that we cannot afford to go corrupt or lost. For example, the intergovernmental meteorological research organization, ECMWF, maintains a grand storage and retrieval system of weather data, in a gigantic and imposing array of magnetic tapes arranged and managed by the facility’s own IT department. It is sensitive data that has several layers of restrictive regulations, and simultaneously, needs to be accessed time and again by meteorologists and data miners for scientific modelling, research and weather forecasts. The preference of cartridges over pen drive is a testimony to the unmatched and seamless deliverables they proffer in terms of data storage and protection. Evidently, the nearly sixty-year old technology is both cheap and dependable.
Overaccumulation of data
The hidden forces behind this sustained landscape of technological research and innovation in the domain of data storage technologies are the reckless generation of data itself. Today, businesses, governmental and intergovernmental organizations, and other miscellaneous institutions churn out data at a stupendous rate. As per an SINTEF (a private Norwegian research organization) report, more than ninety per cent of world’s data has been created within a span of last two years.
CISCO estimates the global data centre traffic to have undoubtedly entered the ‘zettabyte’ era, which would touch a value of 10.4 ZB (zettabytes) by 2019. Among these, the cloud traffic enjoys a dominant share and is projected to account for 8.6 ZB (zettabytes) by 2019.
The emergence of a new market
With the reducing size of cartridges, the cost of data stored per terabyte will become extremely competitive and attractive, and the market could again turn its gaze towards novel magnetic storage technologies. The IBM magnetic ‘sputtered’ tape boasts a capacity of 201 gigabytes per square inch. This is a truly remarkable number, which can potentially hold 181,500 movies or almost 330 million books, in the palm of one’s hand. High capacity combined with low cost and high reliability is an effective driver for another data storage market renaissance.
In the face of the current data revolution, the world is looking for avenues to store, protect and preserve all the information for present analyses and future retrieval. Consequently, there has emerged a classification known as “cool (or cold) storage” of data – essentially, any kind of data that is seldom accessed or modified falls under the umbrella of cold storage. The advent of the IBM 330 TB cartridge has engendered a debate about its usability in cold storage. If current trends are anything to go by, an efficient and cost-effective magnetic storage device can very well penetrate the realm of cold storage in cloud platforms and disrupt the market.
Scientific advancement: A never ending pursuit
The IBM breakthrough shows that magnetic tapes have no plans to go obsolete and might soon be close on the heels of solid state devices or may even overcome them. At a time when there is a conspicuous anticipation for ‘smart’ automobiles, gadgets, self-help devices and virtual assistants, data is not just a tool but is tantamount to any life-giving natural resource.
The horizon of data storage technologies is awash with tantalizing possibilities of ever smaller devices, exploiting the wonders of magnetics, solid state and material science. The data deluge is as formidable to catch up with as is the race for the perfect storage device – a race which is evidently not over yet!
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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