Tech News and Opinions (by Paul Spain)

LTO-5 expected in H1 2010 with 1.5TB - 3TB storage (updated)

, posted: 9-Sep-2009 14:58

The leading tape backup technology - LTO Ultrium is expected to be launched in its fifth generation in the first half of 2010. LTO technology which is developed by the LTO Consortium (made up of IBM, HP and Seagate) was first launched in late 2000, followed by LTO-2 in mid-2003, LTO-3 in late 2005, LTO-4 in mid-2007.

The longer gap between the fourth and fifth generations of LTO seems is thought by some to be a reflection of a lacking demand, however many businesses seem keen to take advantage of the increased capacity and performance the new technology will deliver.

The native capacity of LTO-5 media will double as it has with previous generations to reach 1.5 TB (1500 GB), and with 2:1 compressible data this will allow 3TB of information to be stored on the media. Original expectations were for a native capacity of 1.6TB (as per the official LTO roadmap).

Performance also improves – increasing from 120 MB/second for LTO-4 to 140 MB/second for LTO-5 - and for compressed data this can rise to 280 MB/second (original expectation was for 180 MB/second native - and up to 360 MB/second compressed). This is faster than typical servers today can deliver data to a tape drive. The introduction of new hard drive and solid state drive technology will make this less of an issue going forward however. The performance boost will certainly be valuable in disaster recovery situations that rely on tape storage.

So far the only formal public announcement of LTO-5 product has come from Imation who make LTO media and they advise LTO-5 media is due early 2010. It is predicted that initial full height LTO-5 drives will be launched in the first half of 2010, with broad global availability being the second half of 2010. (Update: one key backup supplier has advised us late 2009 that despite the announcement from Imation they don't expect LTO-5 hardware to ship in 2010. We've been monitoring various suppliers and now believe this is wrong and that vendors will begin announcing LTO5 products Q1 2010)

Many wonder whether businesses still need tape backup with options such as online and disk based backup becoming an increasing part of the market. For now the answer appears to be a resounding 'Yes' – however this picture is sure to change as the market changes, Internet speeds increase and more data moves to the cloud.

Although a 6th Generation of LTO technology exists as part of the official roadmap it is unclear how far away the release of LTO-6 will be, or if it will be released at all. Come back to me on that subject in 2012 or 2013.

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Comment by Ricardo Costa, on 4-Mar-2010 15:52

Hi Paul,

I hope you're fine. I was Google'ng around to find info about LTO5 and found your article.

I'm a little bit curious with a specific idea you posted and I would like to know your comments on it.

Your post recall the old discussion about the backup speed vs tape speed. As LTO5 will be way faster than LTO4, the shoeshine effect may be even worse than today. As a counter message, you mention that newer (faster) disks and SSD would be less than an issue going forward.

However, I think you missed three important pieces in this statement:

1) You can have faster disks, but if your data is still heavily fragmented (i.e. File Systems),the overall gain is still way behind a LTO4 and LTO5 would need to prevent backup bottlenecks;

2) You can have SSD but, in my opinion, those disks are used for cache for OLTP systems and not for storage, thus it's not part of regular backups (at most, a CDP strategy);

3) Suppose you have faster disks, less fragmented data, SSD becoming storage units rather than cache, you still have the backup server bottleneck. Most backup servers are not designed properly in terms of throughput (or concentrate LAN and SAN traffic in one backup server, which is worse);

What are you thoughts on these arguments?

Thanks in advance,

Ricardo Costa - Rio de Janeiro - Brazil
(blog with translation tool available)