Linear Tape-Open (LTO) and LTFS

Submitted on Oct 04, 2010, 11:32 p.m.

I thought this was worth breaking my tech blog silence for.

I’ve been doing some research on storage options for a media company who are in desperate need of an easy-to-use, safe and large capacity storage solution. I spent the best part of a week looking at various offerings, when it became clear that LTO and LTFS were going to hit the sweet spot. The LTO specification is currently at LTO-5 – which provides 1.5 TB of uncompressed storage to the linear tape format and data transfer speeds of up to 140MB per second. Impressive.

That’s about 500GB per hour. But here’s the good part. Until now – all tape backup systems required their own non-standard and proprietary index in order to catalogue and locate data on a tape. So for example once you start using Symantec’s Backup Exec – or anyone else’s software – you’re stuck using it until you’re ready to rotate your backup stock. Even if the data is in tar format – you still need to know ‘where’ the tar files are located on the tape. With archive material, there's a risk that years from now your data may be on a tape that requires software that might not exist, or that you're going to have to pay for in order to access data that belongs to you.

Enter LTFS. With LTO-5 a new open file system has been introduced, which means that a tape that has been backed up on a LTFS compliant system – can be read and restored from another. Great. What’s more – IBM, and HP (to start) have released freely available LTFS software for LTO-5 tape drives for Mac OS X and Linux. Even better news for Mac OS X users since support for enterprise class backup software on Mac OS X is thin (with some specialty solutions from people like BRU-PE and the very expensive PresStore system from Archiware).

The initial releases of LTFS doesn’t replace an enterprise class backup and archive system – however it does allow smaller companies to begin using LTO 5 LTFS now – knowing that their assets are safe in a long shelf-life and open standard. Win win for LTO-5.