IBM, Sony Reveal Magnetic Tape Data Storage Breakthrough

The amount of data you can put on a hard drive continues to grow. Thanks to IBM and Sony, the two companies have jointly developed a new kind of tape that can hold 201-gigabits or roughly 25GB per square inch. While that may not seem that impressive considering, you can buy microSD cards that can hold 256GB of data. But when you fill a cartridge with over a kilometer of this new type of tape, you can store 330TB of data in a space that is the same size as a hard drive. That said, accessing that data is not as easy as a hard drive but, it is a problem solver for companies that need to hold years worth of data.

Computer hard drives feature thin layers of various metals to store tiny magnetic charges. However, a tape can be flexed, bend and wound around, which can be converted to a thin layer of iron oxide or chromium parties which are magnetized or demagnetized by a machine, which can create individual pieces of data.

But it begs the question – how did the researchers manage to add so much data to a piece of tape that you would see in a Sony’s Walkman? In the paper recently published in IEEE Transactions on Magnetics explained, the team at Sony developed a new kind of magnetic layer that is applied to the tape using a specialized technique called sputter deposition, which uses vapor instead of a liquid to lay down tiny magnetic particles that are just a few nanometers in size. Older methods of creating magnetic tape produced particles that could be large, but the smaller you make the particles, the more of them can be squeezed into a given space, which allows you to store more data.

Sony developed a new lubricant layer that ensures the tape runs through the machinery allowing it to read and write data as smoothly as possible, reducing friction and wear and tear, and extending the life of the storage medium. Having a tape jam can cause mechanical errors, which could be catastrophic.

Meanwhile, IBM’s research team developed a new read head just 48-nanometers in size that was capable of accurately reading the magnetic particles on Sony’s new tape, as well as technology allowing for precise control of the tape as it flows through the machine. As a result, with IBM’s research development, accuracy and precision have been improved as the magnetic particles holding the data get smaller.

That said, existing hardware will not be compatible with this new technology, and the technology is only available in research and development labs of IBM and Sony, and it will likely take a few years before it is commercially available.