IBM scientists sets a new world record by fitting 330 terabytes of uncompressed data into a tiny cartridge. To put that into perspective, that is equivalent of over 30 million books inside the cartridge that can fit in the palm of your hand. IBM’s prototype sputtered magnetic tape can store up to 201GB of data per square inch. That is more than 20 times the areal density of the current commercial tape drives. Areal density defines as the amount of data that can be encoded in a given surface area. 

Dr. Mark Lantz holding a one square inch piece of sputtered magnetic tape which can hold up to 201GB of data.

Tape drives were invented over 60 years ago and initially used to store tax documents and healthcare records. IBM’s first tape units uses a half-inch-wide reels which can store up to 2MB of data.

Cross section of a prototype sputtered magnetic tape.

“Tape has traditionally been used for video archives, back-up 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. The development of Internet of Things (IoT) created a new market for high capacity storage media. IBM indicates that “storage on tapes will continue to scale up for another decade”. To capitalize early on this new market is a good business choice.

“While sputtered tape is expected to cost a little more to manufacture than current commercial tape, the potential for very high capacity will make the cost per terabyte very attractive, making this technology practical for cold storage in the cloud.”

In order to achieve a high areal density per square inch of the sputtered magnetic tape, IBM scientist has to develop several new technologies together with its close partner, Sony. The two companies has been working harmoniously for several years to further improve the technology.

“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.