LTFS 2: The Linear Tape File System - The Evolution and Revolution of Tape

By Nicholas Inglis posted 09-18-2014 10:45


The Linear Tape File System (LTFS) is the latest development in magnetic tape, a technology that has been evolving for over 50 years and remains one of the most efficient means of storing data and information. The Linear Tape File System is self-contained tape that stores data and information and makes it accessible on any operating system (OS).

According to a recent podcast discussion between Jay Livens and Michael Richmond, the lead architect of the Linear Tape File System specification and original technology, LTFS actually describes two things. One is the software installed on the OS that extends the capabilities of the OS to work with data and tapes written in LTFS format; and the second is the open-format specification describing how data is laid out in LTFS-specification formatted tape cartridges.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

The Linear Tape File System specification has spawned an array of interchangeable software for storing information on magnetic tape. The information, along with its metadata, is stored on the tape cartridge. Since the metadata and information about the files is stored on the tape and is self-contained, it is possible to use a tape cartridge in a manner similar to a removable drive or USB stick, but with higher storage potential.

The Linear Tape File System specification is not a proprietary format; it was developed by the IBM Almaden Research Center and released as an open-format specification through the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) so that any company can leverage the standard to build products and services that will function with any other company's products and services. Not only is the Linear Tape File System a cross-company standard, but it is also a cross-platform standard, making data and information accessible on Linux, OS X and Windows platforms. All of this makes the Linear Tape File System specification the most accessible standard ever created for tape-based technology.

Linear Tape File System Single Drive Edition

The earliest version of the software and the most accessible version of Linear Tape File System technology is the LTFS-SDE (Single Drive Edition). Most companies beginning to work with the Linear Tape File System start by leveraging SDE. To use SDE, one would simply connect a cartridge to a system through a piece of hardware and download some free software (available for Linux, OS X or Windows). The cartridge will then show up as an additional drive on the system, allowing for drag-and-drop functionality to move and copy data and information to the cartridge, making tape backup easy and accessible. With tape storage technology now pushing the boundaries of 185 terabytes per cartridge, the storage potential is moving towards massive.

Comparing to the LTO-5

The previous standard, which is still in use in many organizations, is Linear Tape-Open Gen 5 (LTO-5). According to Richmond, the LTO-5 tape is approximately 1 km in length, and data is arranged in multiple "wraps" along the tape. With LTO-5, to seek from the beginning of the tape to the end of the tape, reading the 80 "wraps" per half inch of tape can take up to 90 seconds.

With the Linear Tape File System, the indexing data is stored at the beginning of the tape, allowing the software to know where to "look" on the tape for the requested information. This cuts down the amount of time needed to find information on the tape to a few seconds, up to tens of seconds at most.

TFS: The Tape Evolution as a Revolution

In most technology, advances are incremental. The Linear Tape File System specification is a revolutionary technological advance, not an evolutionary one. Furthermore, it is an open specification, a leap forward that every vendor in the industry and every company leveraging tape technology can utilize. The revolution in tape is happening now, and it is time for organizations to move their technology forward to LTFS to improve the efficiency and efficacy of their tape-based programs.

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