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Know the Storage Lifespans of Your Archival Data Cartridges

Archival backups can provide crucial protection from ransomware attacks and other disasters. There’s just one issue: For the backups to be useful, they need to be in readable condition. That’s not always guaranteed.

Most data tape formats can reliably store information for decades — but improper storage conditions can significantly limit their lifespan. Without duplicate backups, an archive can become unusable over time. To prevent a disaster, businesses need to check backups regularly and duplicate older archives to newer formats (or simply create additional copies of mission-critical media).

To make sure your data is safe, you’ll need to determine the storage lifespan of your data cartridges and plan appropriately. Here’s a look at the lifespans of some of the most popular tape formats.

An important caveat: Many factors can affect storage lifespans and library management decisions, which we’ll discuss for each format. Additionally, some tape drive manufacturers avoid providing guaranteed life expectancies; to provide accurate information, we used primary resources where possible, along with third-party research.

LTO Data Cartridge Life Expectancy

LTO Lifespan: 30+ years.

Factors to Consider: LTO cartridges offer numerous advantages over other formats. As of when this article was written, LTO-8 is the most recent generation and boasts a compressed storage capacity of 30 terabytes with a compressed transfer rate of 750 MB/sec.

Most manufacturers estimate that LTO tapes will provide dependable data storage for 15-30 years. However, LTO archives require precise storage conditions. Slight deviations in temperature or humidity can affect storage life. Ideally, LTOs should be stored at 61 to 77°F (16 to 25°C).

To maintain reliable backups, businesses should consider duplicating older LTO tapes. Migrating tapes to new formats is always prudent; while LTO tape drives are backwards-compatible for two generations (for instance, an LTO-5 drive can read LTO-4 and LTO-3 tapes), it’s important to pay attention to obsolescence and plan accordingly.

DLT Data Tape Life Expectancy

DLT Lifespan: 50+ years.

Factors to Consider: For years, DLTs were the standard for archival storage, and with good reason: The tapes resist degradation, and both DLT media and tape drives remain relatively inexpensive. In one environmental stability study, DLTs and SDLTs exhibited greater life expectancies than all other cartridges, with significant resistance to environmental factors.

However, the DLT format is essentially obsolete, as drive manufacturer Quantum has shifted focus to higher capacity formats. As such, DLT and Super DLT (SDLT) archives should be migrated to LTO or another format.

DDS & DAT Data Tape Life Expectancy

DDS Lifespan: 10+ years.

Factors to Consider: Based upon the Digital Audio Tape (DAT) format, DDS offered a storage capacity of up to 600 gigabytes. The format is largely obsolete, but is still occasionally used for archival storage.

DDS cartridges were inexpensive, but as with other formats, the cartridges are susceptible to changes in humidity or temperature. Additionally, many DDS drives were not backwards-compatible with previous generations. The last generation of DDS was released in 2009, so businesses should migrate DDS media to a newer format (such as LTO or TS1160) to ensure that older archives remain accessible.

AIT & SAIT Data Tape Life Expectancy

AIT/SAIT Lifespan: 30+ years.

Factors to Consider: AIT and SAIT tapes are largely obsolete, but the formats were widely used for several decades. Many AIT drives were both backwards- and forwards-compatible, and the final generation (SAIT-2) offered a native capacity of 800 gigabytes (1.3 terabytes compressed) with relatively fast read speeds.

AIT and SAIT tapes have a lifespan comparable to modern LTO tapes, but with the same susceptibility to environmental factors. Because newer AIT/SAIT hardware is rare and expensive, these cartridges should be converted to newer formats to prevent data loss and to allow for quicker access to archives.

TS1160 Data Tape Life Expectancy

TS1160 Lifespan: 30+ years.

Factors to Consider: The IBM TS1160 is intended as a competitor for LTO, with a compressed storage capacity of up to 60 terabytes and compressed transfer rates of up to 900 MB/sec. The TS1160 drive is backwards-compatible with TS155 and TS1150 media.

All high-density storage is susceptible to environmental factors, and as with the LTO, the TS1160 drive and media require appropriate conditions. IBM recommends an operating environment of 60° F to 90° F (16° to 32° C) with a relative humidity of 20 to 80 percent non-condensing.

As with other current-generation formats, TS1160 cartridges should be checked regularly. Older tapes should be cycled out, and mission-critical backups should be duplicated to ensure reliability.

My data cartridges are older than their rated lifespan. Are they still useful?

Potentially. At Total Data Migration, we’ve restored data from early reel-to-reel systems and archives kept in extreme heat and humidity. While the safest course of action is to build a reliable backup schedule and maintain an appropriate storage environment, you should never assume that older tape archives are unreadable.

Modern data recovery technologies can restore some older tapes, provided that the actual tape retains its magnetization. In some cases, accessing cartridges with well-maintained tape drives can restore usable data. No two archives are the same, and actual storage life expectancies vary greatly due to dozens of factors.

Total Data Migration offers an extensive set of services to restore, migrate, or recover from virtually any cartridge format. We maintain a library of modern and legacy devices, and by maintaining strict chain-of-custody, we can securely handle tapes to meet your organization’s goals.

Whether you’re recovering from a disaster or planning to prevent long-term data loss, our experts can provide essential guidance. Contact us at 1-800-876-3376 or email us to get started.

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Overview of the Features of LTO-9 Tape Format

The Linear Tape Open (LTO, or LTO Ultrium) format has been a mainstay of data storage for decades. Created by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM and Quantum, LTO is an open format — it’s not controlled by a single manufacturer, so it’s less likely to be discontinued — and more than 351,732,245 cartridges have been shipped since the format’s introduction.

The LTO Consortium has announced features of the upcoming LTO-9 tape, which will launch officially later this year. Additionally, the organization has announced plans for LTO-10 through LTO-12; while those products are still undergoing development, we’ve gathered as much information as possible to help IT decision makers plan accordingly.

What is the capacity of an LTO-9 tape cartridge?

LTO-9 is capable of storing up to 18 terabytes (TB) of data, with a compressed capacity of 45 terabytes. That’s a 50% increase in capacity over the previous generation, LTO-8, which had a raw capacity of 12 terabytes and a compressed capacity of 30 terabytes.

Capacity is one of the most important considerations when choosing digital storage media, and at the time we wrote this article, LTO-10 specifications called for an uncompressed capacity of 48 terabytes with a compressed capacity of 120 TB.

However, that goal could change. Initially, the LTO-9 format had a goal of 24 terabytes (raw), but the project cut the capacity in September 2020. Tape capacity usually doubles with each new generation; the LTO-9 will break with that tradition.

Why doesn’t the LTO-9 have double the capacity of the LTO-8 format?

We don’t know — the Linear Tape Open project hasn’t released information about why they changed their goal. However, it’s likely due to manufacturing costs and perceived benefit: With a compressed capacity of 45 terabytes, the LTO-9 is perfectly capable of providing an air-gapped backup solution for most enterprises.

Many organizations use LTO tapes because they’re relatively inexpensive. LTO-8 tapes cost about $70-80, and the LTO-9 format is expected to carry a similar price per terabyte.

What are the transfer speeds of LTO-9 tape drives?

LTO-9 is expected to boast a native transfer rate of 400 megabytes per second (MB/sec.), with a compressed transfer rate of up to 1,000 MB/sec. To put that in perspective, here’s a quick comparison with previous generations:

● LTO-9 - 400 MB/sec native, 1,000 MB/sec compressed

● LTO-8 - 360 MB/sec native, 900 MB/sec compressed

● LTO-7 - 300 MB/sec native, 750 MB/sec compressed

● LTO-6 - 140 MB/sec native, 280 MB/sec compressed

In perfect conditions, an LTO-9 drive can write a full tape in 12 hours and 30 minutes. The transfer rates for LTO-10 have not been officially announced. Of course, the goal of the project is to increase read/write speeds with every new tape — but while manufacturers set clear goals to double capacity with each new generation, there’s no standard goal for transfer speeds.

Will LTO-9 tape drives read LTO-8 tapes?

Yes, LTO-9 hardware will be backwards compatible with the previous generation. The hardware is limited by the tape — in other words, you’ll be able to read and write LTO-8 tapes with an LTO-9 drive, but the hardware will behave like an LTO-8 drive with a limited transfer rate of 360 MB/sec (native).

The Linear Tape Open project has always prioritized backwards compatibility, and prior to LTO-8, every drive was backwards-compatible for two generations. That changed with the LTO-8, which was only backwards-compatible for one generation (in other words, an LTO-8 drive can only read LTO-8 and LTO-7 cartridges). The change occurred due to improvements in tape technology, and future generations are expected to be backwards compatible for a single generation.

What are the other features of LTO-9 tapes?

LTO-9 features will include:

Support for the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) - Introduced in 2010, LTFS allows LTO tapes to be accessed in a manner similar to traditional read/write media like hard drives and flash drives. It allows tape libraries to exceed hard disk data transfer rates even when accessing individual files within an archive.

Hardware-Based Encryption - All backup media needs appropriate encryption. LTO uses 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard with Galois/Counter Mode of Operation (AES256-GCM), which is both secure and fast. The encryption key is never written to the tape itself.

Write-Once, Read-Many (WORM) Functionality - WORM is a form of write protection that prevents accidental overwrites. It ensures the integrity of mission-critical data, and LTO has supported WORM since LTO-5.

Low Cost - As with other generations, LTO-9 will have a low cost per gigabytes when compared with alternatives like hard drives and flash media.

If your organization is planning on upgrading to LTO-9, we can help. Total Data Migration’s experts can build a process for migrating tapes from old or obsolete formats, including previous LTO generations and other formats like DAT, DLT, IBM 3592, SAIT, and more. For a free consultation, contact us via email or call 800-876-3376.

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The Next Generations of Data Tapes Will Keep Increasing Capacity. Here's How.

This year, the 9th generation of the Linear Tape Open (LTO) format will be released. LTO-9 tapes will offer a compressed capacity of 45 terabytes — a 50% increase over current-generation LTO-8 tapes.

And over the next several years, data tape capacity will continue to increase. LTO-10 specifications call for a compressed capacity of 120 terabytes, and the 8th and 9th generations of IBM TS1160 will continue increasing capacity to compete with LTO.

That leads to an interesting question: How are manufacturers increasing capacity for magnetic tapes so substantially from one generation to the next? From an engineering perspective, the challenge is increasing data density while maintaining the same physical footprint for each cartridge. New cartridges also need to maintain the data integrity of previous generations, which is a tall order; data tapes are an exceptionally reliable form of storage, capable of holding information for decades under proper storage conditions.

Current tape prototypes are just that — prototypes — an additional engineering will need to be completed in order to ensure that the media is actually usable in real-world settings. However, recent advances in tape technology provide some interesting insights.

New Data Tapes Will Use New Magnetic Materials

In December 2020, Fujifilm and IBM Research announced a world-record data density of 317 gigabytes per square inch (Gbpsi) for data tape storage. For a standard-sized data tape, that data density would allow storage of up to 580 terabytes.

The innovation was largely due to a new magnetic particle, Strontium Ferrite (SrFe). Current-generation data tapes use Barium Ferrite. SrFe is currently used widely in motor manufacturing, and its magnetic properties make it an attractive choice for data storage.

Some key takeaways:

● SrFe magnetic particles have 60% less volume than Barium Ferrite particles, which allows for next-generation densities.

● SrFe is a chemically stable oxide. That means that it should allow for dependable long-term storage comparable to current-generation materials. Data tapes vary in life expectancy, but most formats can be stored for decades without data loss.

● In laboratory tests, SrFe magnetic particles demonstrate exceptional performance with low noise. For consumers, that means high reliability with fast read/write speeds.

The new materials aren’t the only innovation that will allow for greater data densities. Future formats are expected to use sputter deposition to store more data, more accurately.

Sputtered Deposition: A New Method for Writing High-Density Data Tapes

Sputter deposition generates multiple layers of fine crystal particles on a polymer film. Current tape drives use a linear recording system, which is less precise, but sputter deposition has its own engineering challenges: The crystals are naturally rough, and the roughness can cause disparities that could compromise data storage. Sony and IBM have independently addressed this problem by developing techniques to optimize the sputter (data writing) process and to improve the smoothness of the tape.

Next-generation tape drives will also utilize new signal-processing algorithms to ensure reliable operation, and advanced servo control technologies will allow the read/write heads to be positioned within an accuracy level of about 7 nanometres. For perspective, a human hair has a width between 17 and 180 micrometers (a nanometer is 1,000 times smaller than a micrometer).

“While sputtered tape is expected to cost a little more to manufacture than current commercial tape that uses barium ferrite (BaFe), the potential for very high capacity will make the cost per TB very attractive, making this technology practical for cold storage in the cloud,” IBM’s Evangelos Eleftheriou said in a statement.

The next generation of data tapes will have a smooth non-magnetic layer underneath the magnetic layer, minimizing disparities. All of these innovations will combine to change the way that data is stored long-term — and that has major implications for businesses of all sizes.

New Tape Storage Technologies May Revolutionize “Cold" Storage

Currently, about 80% of all data is “cold storage" data; it’s written once, then stored for months or years without being accessed. Organizations need cold storage for data retention requirements, and current-generation tapes like LTO-8 offer dependable cold storage at a much lower cost-per-gigabyte than hard drives or flash media.

New tape formats like LTO-9 and LTO-10 will expand the benefits of tape storage significantly, and because the new tapes will have a much greater density, businesses will be able to spend less money on physical storage space without sacrificing their retention policies. The only downside: Older tapes will need to be migrated to newer formats. While LTO-9 drives are expected to be backwards-compatible with LTO-8, the drives will be limited by the format they’re reading (or writing). Migrating tapes allows for the fastest possible access to crucial data and delivers the full benefits of next-generation tape technology.

If your organization is considering an upgrade to a newer tape format — or if you simply want to prepare for a potential migration project — Total Data Migration can help. As leading experts in cold storage technologies, we can design a secure, cost-effective migration plan for libraries of any size or format. Contact us or call 800-876-3376 for a free consultation.

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What is the LTO Category Memory Chip (LTO-CM)?

Included in all Linear Tape Open (LTO) cartridges, the Category Memory (CM) chip identifies the cartridge to allow hardware to function appropriately. When the cartridge is inserted into a tape drive, the drive’s cartridge memory reader accesses the CM chip.

The CM chip contains about 16 kilobytes of information, including end-of-data location. By reading that information, the tape drive can locate the recording area quickly after receiving a “Write" command, allowing for fast operation without accidental overwrites. All LTO chips have a CM chip, including cleaning cartridges.

Other information on the LTO-CM chip may include:

● Cartridge age

● Cartridge generation

● Number of times the cartridge has been accessed

● Number of errors accumulated over successive Write sessions

The LTO-CM chip was a major innovation, as it allowed for greater efficiency. The tape drive can use the information on the chip to find the recording area, and because it tracks information about error accumulation, operators can use the data to determine when cartridges need to be replaced.

The LTO-CM Chip As a Potential Attack Vector

Cybercriminals look for novel ways to build their assaults, and while the LTO-CM chip stores an extremely limited amount of data, it could potentially serve as an attack vector. This could become a more significant issue with future versions of the LTO format — as the LTO-CM chip increases in storage size, attackers could attempt to install malware directly on the chip. Viruses smaller than 16 kilobytes are common, though a cybercriminal would need to use creative methods in order to execute malware on a current-generation CM chip.

More practically, the LTO-CM chip contains information about tape usage that could inform a cybercriminal’s actions. In a targeted attack, the data could prove useful; if a bad actor understands a company’s backup schedule, they could attempt to eliminate all existent backups before a primary attack occurs.

For these reasons, the LTO-CM chip needs to be completely sterilized along with the data storage portion of the tape cartridge. Sanitization isn’t difficult, but most enterprises are unaware of the potential threat.

Does the LTO-CM Chip Store Usable Data?

The LTO-CM chip does not store “real" data under typical circumstances. In other words, when the drive writes to the tape, it does not pass that data through the chip; the purpose of the cartridge memory is to allow the tape drive to function more efficiently.

With that said, the CM chip still needs to be sanitized properly. Shredding tape cartridges often leaves the CM chip untouched (and as we’ve discussed on this site, shredding modern LTO cartridges can leave a tremendous amount of recoverable data). Degaussing is more a secure method of tape disposal when done properly — though operators need to understand degaussing techniques — but does not affect the CM chip.

Remember, All Data Storage Media Presents Risks

The LTO format has built-in security features to protect data from cybercriminals. Given its fast read/write speeds, large capacity, and low cost, LTO-8 is an excellent option for enterprise data storage. It’s easily the most popular non-obsolete data format in constant use, and we have no reason to advise against LTO-8 or the upcoming LTO-9 and LTO-10 formats.

With that said, all storage media must be used — and sanitized — using appropriate methods. The CM chip presents a unique vector for potential attacks, and operators must develop safeguards to eliminate unnecessary vulnerabilities.

Our recommendations for using LTO tapes equipped with a cartridge memory chip:

Use appropriate sanitization methods. The CM chip should be wiped or destroyed as part of a sanitization procedure. Degaussing will not target the chip, and neither will shredding; incineration is effective for destroying the cartridge memory (along with the rest of the cartridge), but can be costly.

Limit peripheral access to backup systems. When secured, tape backups are a powerful defense against ransomware and other cyberattacks. Enterprises should limit all peripheral use for these important systems — that includes optical media, flash drives, and external hard drives.

Maintain records when data cartridges contain sensitive information. Keep track of all processes performed, including regular backups and sanitization procedures.

Total Data Migration’s experts can help your enterprise form an appropriate sanitization strategy. For a free consultation, contact us or call 1-800-876-3376.

Why Is Data Migration Seen as Difficult and Risky?

The short answer is "data gravity." Although the concept of data gravity has been around for some time, the challenge is becoming more significant because of data migrations to cloud infrastructures. In brief, data gravity is a metaphor that describes:

  • How data attracts other data to it as it grows
  • How data is integrated into a business
  • How data becomes customized over time

To move applications and data to more advantageous environments, Gartner recommends "disentangling" data and applications as a means of overcoming data gravity. By making time at the beginning of the project to sort out data and application complexities, firms can improve their data management, enable application mobility, and improve data governance.

What is the Best Approach?

The main issue is that every application complicates data management by introducing elements of application logic into the data management tier, and each one is indifferent to the next data use case. Business processes use data in isolation and then output their own formats, leaving integration for the next process. Therefore, application design, data architecture, and business processes must all respond to each other, but often one of these groups is unable or unwilling to change. This forces application administrators to sidestep ideal and simple workflows, resulting in suboptimal designs. And, although the workaround may have been necessary at the time, this technical debt must eventually be addressed during data migration or integration projects.

Given this complexity, consider promoting data migration to "strategic weapon" status so that it gets the right level of awareness and resources. To ensure that the project gets the attention it needs, focus on the most provocative element of the migration – the fact that the legacy system will be turned off – and you’ll have the attention of key stakeholders, guaranteed.

What Is Data Migration?

Data migration is the process of moving data from one location to another, one format to another, or one application to another. Generally, this is the result of introducing a new system or location for the data. The business driver is usually an application migration or consolidation in which legacy systems are replaced or augmented by new applications that will share the same dataset. These days, data migrations are often started as firms move from on-premises infrastructure and applications to cloud-based storage and applications to optimize or transform their company

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