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The Walkman is a blast from the past. But LTO Ultrium is a vision of the future

Sony Walkman

There’s been a lot of coverage in the press over the last few days after Sony announced the release of a limited edition Walkman to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this iconic device.

“The glory days of tape are back” cried the headlines, whilst knowingly explaining that Sony’s latest creation is actually a 16 GB solid state device dressed up in old skool clothes with a touchscreen that display's a moving cassette tape.

For the vast majority of consumers, tape and Walkmans disappeared not long after ET went home. CDs, then streaming, took over and although vinyl has made a niche comeback in recent years, I haven’t seen much demand for fast forward and rewind support for Spotify.

But although the halcyon days of tape as a volume consumer technology are long since over, in commercial terms, it’s important to realise that tape - or more properly, magnetic media - never went away.

Members of the general public reading about Sony’s new Walkman probably don’t realise that LTO Ultrium tape is still shipping in staggering quantities. Almost everyone has some of their data stored on an LTO tape somewhere!

And more to the point, today’s LTO Ultrium tape solutions bear about as much resemblance to 1980s music technology as an F1 race car resembles a Ford Model T.

The developments in areal density that have enabled LTO capacity to grow from 200 GB in 2000, to 30 TB in 2019, to 480 TB (and beyond) within a decade are truly remarkable.

Advancements in Density of LTO Tape


Aerial Density of LTO Tape


Since 2000, HPE has shipped over 100 million LTO Ultrium cartridges, with a combined capacity of 195 billion gigabytes. As an industry, LTO Ultrium tape is still supported by some of the biggest IT companies in the world and has a credible roadmap of achievable innovation that is better aligned to the challenges of future growth of data than any other long term archival technology.

The new Walkman is a cool product but it’s a skilful illusion of a tape device. Meanwhile, far from being some kind relic in the 1980s museum of pop culture, LTO tape continues to be deployed by customers of all sizes in every industry and every region. For a technology that was supposedly dead and buried, tape is looking very much alive.

So perhaps we should press pause on playing the Final Countdown (or any of your favourite 80’s anthems!)

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