Happy 50th birthday to tape storage

Tape storage technology this year is celebrating 50 years on the market. I can hear the groans of all the antitape coalition. "Tape is Dead!" Well, no, it's 50 years old and still kicking. Like all technologies that have developed along with the computer, tape and tape drives have taken elements of the original designs and implementations and improved on them over the years.

Last year, IBM celebrated the 50th anniversary of its original 7-track tape drive, the Model 726. Because there were no "computer data tapes" available, the first tape media used with that drive was a movie reel. In less than a year after the introduction of the Model 726, Imation, then 3M, came out with the first computer data tape reel.

With today's multigigabyte capacities it's hard to imagine that this first tape supported only 100 bits of data per inch of tape with a total capacity per reel of one megabyte. Over the past 50 years Imation has grown into a multibillion-dollar business, all focused on removable media including tape, diskettes and optical.

However, IBM and Imation are not the only vendors in the tape business. In July 2002, a group of vendors also involved with tape came together to form the Tape Technology Council (TTC) ( http://www.emtec-group.com/ ). This council includes member companies EMTEC (formerly BASF), Fujifilm, IBM, Imation, Maxell, Quantum, Seagate, Sony, and StorageTek. Its goal is to educate the different IT markets on the many tape technologies and their advantages for specific applications.

The TTC is in the process of launching two subgroups to achieve its goals, a marketing subgroup and a technical subgroup. The marketing group will promote and educate IT personnel on the array of tape options available as well as work to develop the tape community. The technical group will provide support to the educational materials disseminated by the council as well as support the development and proliferation of tape-based applications.

Most IT personnel I speak with would not remove tape from their environments. They understand the benefit tape brings to their company, even if they don't always understand the benefit of one tape-type over another for their specific applications. However, the TTC is hedging their bets to make sure IT understands the value of tape to ensure another 50 years. Who knows, they may answer some of these customer questions along the way, as well.

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