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Good-bye HPE LTO-1. Hello to Continuing LTO Innovation.




LTO innovation_blog.jpgYes, it’s time to say farewell to HPE LTO-1.  But continuous innovation means HPE LTO tape still has a bright future.

What do PlayStation 2, MySpace, Windows XP, the movie Gladiator, the iPod, the album "The Eminem Show," the Arizona Diamondbacks World Series win and the Euro currency all have in common?

Simple. All of them occurred after the first generation of Linear Tape Open cartridges were shipped in early 2000.  For a bit more nostalgia, here's the first LTO-1 advertising campaign from Spring 2000.First LTO ad.png

Just how big did HP(E)’s Ultrium become?

The answer to that question has to be. . . huge! Those earliest HPE LTO-1 tapes were distributed in May 2000 and since that time, HPE has shipped over nine million LTO-1 tapes, accounting for 1.8 billion gigabytes of storage capacity. Although HPE stopped selling LTO-1 drives some time ago, the cartridges themselves have continued to sell units right up until the present.

All good things come to an end, however, and some time during the next month or so, the last HPE LTO-1 tape will be sold. Then this incredible storage success story will have reached the end of its commercial life (but not its operational life, as we will soon see).

I think it’s remarkable that in 2017, we are talking about a technology product—an unchanged SKU even—that has been in demand by customers for almost two decades. Although HPE LTO-1 has been succeeded by six further generations of the LTO Ultrium format, and changed its branding clothes a few times, the original C7971A LTO-1 Ultrium 200 GB cartridge has been on the HPE price list ever since those first tapes appeared. And that was barely a few weeks after the world had finally convinced itself to stop worrying about the Millennium Bug. 

One tape every six seconds….for seventeen years

But although saying farewell to LTO-1 is the end of an era, it would be a mistake to regard the retirement of the first generation of LTO Ultrium as heralding the demise of tape storage in general. 

Data released earlier this year by the LTO Technology Provider Companies shows a record 96,000 petabytes (PB) of total compressed tape capacity shipped in 2016, an increase of 26.1 percent over the previous year. Greater LTO-7 tape technology density as well as the continuous growth in LTO-6 tape technology shipments were key contributors to this increase.

LTO-1 might be going away but tape technology is going from strength to strength. And if you thought 1.8 billion GB was a big number, that's only a fraction of the 140 billion GB of LTO cartridge capacity that Hewlett Packard Enterprise has shipped over all seven generations of the Ultrium format. 

Put differently, HPE has shipped one tape every six seconds for the last seventeen years!

Or, it you like your factoids with a “banana for scale” perspective, all of the HPE LTO cartridges ever sold could be stacked as a tower 13 million bananas high. Enough to make even the most hard-core Fruit Ninja weep! 

(For more amazing HPE LTO Storage Supplies factoids, check out this infographic.)

As relevant as ever in the era of cloud and Big Data

Looking at the wider world, it’s not hard to see why. Without being too philosophical about it, LTO-1 was storage for an analog society that was about to undergo a digital revolution. In 2000, there were no smartphones, few mobile devices, no Facebook or YouTube and barely any Google searching.  There were only 361 million internet users at the turn of the century. Today, there are estimated to be 3.8 billion. In the last seventeen years, faster, more pervasive, more connected networks comprised of billions of devices have begun to generate data more rapidly than we can comprehend.

And all the signs are that this trend is unstoppable. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI), 2016 report predicts that annual global IP traffic will reach 2.3 zettabytes per year by 2020—or 194 exabtyes per month. IP traffic is expected to grow at 22% CAGR from 2015 to 2020, reaching 25 GB per user by 2020, up from 10 GB per capita in 2015.IP Traffic.png

Projected growth of IP Traffic 2015-2020

Far from being an obsolete technology, HPE LTO tape storage is in demand more than ever.  Thanks to its low cost of ownership, scalability, security and reliability, HPE StoreEver and Enterprise tape are the ideal long-term storage solutions for active archives and for customers who need massively scalable cold storage in cloud data centres. And tape continues to innovate! Those first LTO-1 cartridges had a capacity of 0.2 TB compressed. With LTO-8 just around the corner, the next generation of LTO tapes will hold 150 times more data, providing 30 TB in a cartridge that will be identical in terms of size and shape to their earlier LTO-1 cousins. 

Tape innovation is thriving

This has been achieved by constant progress and innovation in LTO Ultrium tape technology. Bit Density.png

LTO Ultrium Media Advances in Bit Density LTO-1 thru LTO-7

Improved signal processing, developments in servowriting and head design, thinner basefilm, smoother tape surfaces and smaller particles have enabled cartridge capacities to keep pace with the digital data explosion.

The stable roadmap and consistency of form factor has enormous TCO benefits for customers who have been able to significantly increase their capacity per square foot, reduce power and cooling costs and maximise space within their data centre. And even today’s impressive LTO capacities are dwarfed by the latest R&D prototypes being developed in the industry. 

Recent demonstrations of a new recording technology called “sputtered tape” make cartridges with 330 TB of data feasible.  Sputtering involves bombarding a target material in a vacuum with high speed ions, such as an argon gas plasma, in order to deposit it on a surface or substrate, like media.  As such, sputtering is very different than traditional media coating which is more like painting a liquid mix onto thin plastic. It’s another sign of how the tape industry is continuing to adapt and add value to users and help them meet the colossal storage and data protection challenges faced by a digital civilisation. 

One final fact to consider

The point of putting all this data onto any storage medium in the first place. That’s to preserve and protect our precious, sometimes priceless, content. When it comes to making sure data is less vulnerable to natural disasters, human error or malicious acts, like ransomware or viruses, tape is an incredibly strong and secure medium. If 330 TB LTO cartridges do become the norm in a dozen years or so, the very first LTO-1 Ultrium cartridges should still be readable and accessible even after thirty years in archival storage. 

In summary, although HPE LTO-1 shipments are going away, HPE LTO Ultrium continues to pass the baton of reliability, performance and capacity with each new generation. And in their archived millions, LTO-1 tapes themselves, like the rest of the HPE LTO family, are going to be around for a long time to come!

Andrew Dodd HPE.jpg

 Meet Around the Storage Block blogger Andrew Dodd, HPE Storage Media.







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