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Demystifying the Linear Tape File System (LTFS)

Since the introduction of the Linear Tape File System (LTFS), a number of articles, white paper and tech briefs have been written about it and its impact on tape. Let's look at the context around what the excitement is all about and discuss how LTFS is being used and deployed.

A file system for tape

To start, LTFS is just what is says it is – a file system for linear tape. In simple terms, LTFS defines two partitions on the tape:

  1. Partition 0 contains the list of files and their location on the tape
  2. Partition 1 contains the actual files

This allows the tape media to be “self-describing” in identifying each individual file on the tape with direct access to each file. It allows for the creation of a directory structure to make file management even easier. The specification for LTFS is open and is controlled and managed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). A number of contributing members are working on the specification, including those from HP and IBM, who ensure that future releases are interoperable with previous versions and add new features to address the growing demand for LTFS.

Making tape as easy to access, manage and share as disk
As a file system for tape, various tape utilities have been developed allowing a tape drive to mount within an operating system (Windows, Linux, and MAC), thereby allowing for basic file system operations such as directory creation and drag and drop to move files to and from the tape drive. The specification ensures that media written by one file system (i.e. Windows) can be read by another file system (i.e. Mac). Now a user can use a tape drive like a large thumb drive. Just like a thumb drive, LTO tapes can be used to share data between systems or can provide a place to store data for safekeeping. HP provides a set of utilities known as HP StoreOpen to simplify the use of tape with LTFS. HP StoreOpen Standalone provides a GUI to mount a standalone tape drive and format a tape with LTFS. HP StoreOpen Automation mounts an HP StoreEver tape library and presents each tape cartridge in the library as an individual file folder, automatically moving tapes in and out of the tape drives as you read/write to a given tape folder.

The value of LTFS for archive
Because LTFS is an open format, content stored on LTFS-formatted tapes can be read by any application that has support for LTFS. This makes LTO with LTFS an ideal solution for long-term archive. A number of advanced archiving solutions available today have integrated LTFS into their product offerings. These solutions provide many more features above and beyond basic tape access such as tape duplication, media tracking, meta data management and often employ some sort of disk cache/buffer to optimize tape access. One such solution is HP StoreEver Tape as NAS , which combines the access benefits of NAS with the cost, reliability and long-term retention benefits of tape. With these solutions, you can leverage the cost efficiencies of tape and avoid vendor lock-in to retrieve your data down the road. 

HP have partnered with a number of LTFS archive solution providers to ensure interoperability with HP StoreEver products. HP StoreOpen is a great supplementary solution as it can be used to read tapes exported from these advanced solutions without having to install the solution software product.

The growing ecosystem for LTFS solutions
LTFS has provided new opportunities to add tape to existing software solutions without the need to become tape experts. Using the open source code and HP StoreOpen solutions available from HP, developers can quickly and easily add tape and tape library support to their software products. This has generated a number of new product offerings that were not available just a few years ago. 

Changing the game for data exchange and archive
The Linear Tape File System is a true game changer. It’s an open file system for tape, managed and supported by SNIA by leading hardware and software companies like HP giving it credibility and long-term support. From basic drag and drop access to full-featured solutions, users can benefit from LTFS as a multi-vendor data transport and/or long-term archive solution. Combined with the HP StoreEver LTO tape drives and tape libraries, you have a solution that is cost effective, reliable and built on open standards—and that is the perfect combination for long-term archive.

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