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Why Tape Storage is Making a Sneaky Comeback



Tape Storage Transcript:

Last year in 2022 IBM rolled out a Cutting Edge new archive system that it promised to be the next generation of storage technology, the weird thing is this shiny new box is filled with this stuff (TAPE) and while this stuff might also be shiny it's far from New in fact next to paper Punch Cards this Magnetic Tape is the oldest form of computer storage technology that exists it's the same stuff that you'd find inside a VHS cassette a technology so Antiquated that it predates the polio vaccine and Pierce Brosnan but over the past few years out of the blue the amount of data being stored on this sort of ancient tape actually started to go up while hard drive sales started to tank and there's a pretty good reason for this but to understand why tape storage came out of retirement to become the storage technology of the future we need to talk about how this industry evolved in the first place when tape storage first came around computers look like this people looked like this and the calendar looked like this it was the 1950s and at the time there wasn't really much data to store computers like the ibm700 4 could only be used as calculators or as a means to simulate what would happen if a dog tried to play chess no one was storing photos or video games or massive Archives of consumer data they really just needed to store Short strings of text and those short strings of text got stored on this stuff now I'm going to do a quick technical explanation of how tape storage works but for those of you who aren't interested I will have my editors put a clown in the corner of the screen doing a little dance to keep you entertained basically the tape would be split up into a number of tracks usually seven or nine and each track would be divided into little magnetically charged sections depending on which way a section was magnetized it would read one or zero and reading all the tracks at once would give you a full six or eight bit character the more sections per tape the more characters could fit on that tape got it good well by the end of the 1950s tape storage was already being phased out for a newer sexier storage technology hard drives now hard drives actually worked pretty similarly to tape storage with the clown back on screen for a second basically information is stored by charging the magnetic field on little sections of a piece of metal but instead of it being a long linear tape it was a spinning disc there's generally a lot less surface area on a hard drive disk but the fact that it's constantly spinning means that accessing information on any part of it is usually a lot faster just a couple of milliseconds versus upwards of a minute to find the right place on a spool of magnetic tape faster data storage access means faster programs and faster programs means way more fun video games so hard drives pretty quickly became the standard for Consumer technology and tape storage got shoved in a dark hole Somewhere over the next few decades a whole lot more money got poured into developing better hard drives which meant making the little magnetic bits smaller and smaller so you could fit more of them on a single disc for a long time we were really good at this the Nerds were cramming an average of 40 more bits on the disks every single year and making them faster and cheaper all the while if you compare a hard drive from today with our 50s aerodrives they can fit 650 million times more data per square inch and they can do it about three and a half billion times cheaper good job nerds but now we've got a bit of a problem hard drives aren't getting much better instead of 40 annual gains we're seeing more like 10 to 15 and the reason for that like technically the reason for everything is physics you see the smaller the bits on the drive get the weaker a magnetic signal they give off because of that classic electromagnetic principle big magnet strong but once the bits get too small the signals become too weak and the whole thing Blends together until one big fuzzy mess that size is called the super paramagnetic limit and uh oh it turns out we've already reached it the biggest hard drive on the market today tops out at 22 terabytes and until God releases magnets 2 they're not gonna get a whole lot better now 22 terabytes sounds like a lot and if you're just storing normal people's stuff it is a lot but for massive multinational corporations it's a bit of a problem every single year here we're producing about 21 more data than the previous year more websites more videos more consumer data more Google Docs where I've just typed the letter H and forgotten why I started that talk in the first place but won't delete it and we'll make Google keep that in their servers for the next four decades all of that has to be stored somewhere that means we need a storage technology that can keep up and it turns out that technology is yeah it's tape that was the whole point of the video so remember how tape works pretty similarly to hard drives but instead of cramming all the data on a three-inch disk it has like a thousand yards of this stuff to work with well it turns out that can actually be a huge Advantage because if you get tape even close to the kind of density you see on Modern hard drives there's like thousands of times more surface area to work with and because tape storage was hardly getting any investment for all these decades it isn't even close to the Super Pair magnetic limit so it's just gonna keep getting better theoretically tape storage should be able to get to almost 200 gigabytes per inch which at 1140 meters per tape means that a little drive like this could be able to hold 9000 terabytes and while hard drives are still much faster to read when it comes to massive archives with thousands of terabytes worth of data that you're rarely going to touch that doesn't really matter plus tape storage lasts longer than hard drives when just sitting on a shelf is way less susceptible to ransomware and is also just way way cheaper than everything else so I guess the point is going forward all the data that Amazon is collecting about how you might need a new phone case is probably not going to be on a box that looks like this it's going to be on a slightly different box that looks like this but it's interesting because the different box is old was that useful who knows but here's something that is useful you're spending too much money on coffee I know it you know it no one wants to admit it but it's true for some reason we've all come to accept that a cup of coffee costs like seven bucks because cafes have the good beans and they're just holding us all financially hostage.


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