Tape Embedded Drive: Western Digital considers tape storage in HDD format


In several patents, the HDD and SSD manufacturer Western Digital describes the idea of ​​a drive that combines tape storage (tape) and the necessary read/write unit. The more recent patents point in the direction that formats and components for HDDs could be used with such a “tape embedded drive”.

These patents are not brand new and in some cases are sufficient even a few years back, but it's only now that they've been getting more attention, thanks to a report by Techradar.

The following patents are listed, but there should be more in this direction.

  • US patent 11393498 : Head Assembly with Suspension System for a Tape Embedded Drive (PDF)
  • US Patent 20200258544: Tape Embedded Drive (PDF)
  • US Patent 11081132: Tape embedded drive with HDD components (PDF)

Patents describe the “Tape Embedded Drive”

All patents have in common the idea of ​​the “Tape Embedded Drive”, i.e. a drive that forms a unit with the tape as the information carrier. This is a major difference to the current solutions, which consist of a tape drive as a read and write unit and a separate tape cartridge that is inserted into the drive.

The sketches in the patents are somewhat reminiscent of the structure of a VHS video cassette: you can see two motor-driven reels next to each other, with which the tape can be wound back and forth. In the middle are the heads for reading and writing the data. We are talking about Head Stack Assembly (HSA) here. A printed circuit board with a physical interface somewhat reminiscent of a SATA or SAS connector can also be identified. NVMe would also be conceivable, as will soon also be the case for HDDs. The whole thing is in a sealed housing that is reminiscent of that of an HDD. The 3.5 inch format known from hard drives also plays a role, but 2.5 inches or 5.25 inches are also being considered.

Unified infrastructure

If conventional HDD formats and interfaces were used, data centers could use the same infrastructure for both hard disks and tape drives. Previous tape libraries are constructed very differently from conventional servers, where numerous cartridges are transported into their drives via robotic arms.

Ten times faster accesses< /h2>

Compared to the previous approach with a tape drive and external cartridge, the embedded tape drive is primarily intended to ensure faster access. The patents calculate that the average access time has been around 100 seconds and can be reduced to 10 seconds with the new approach. This would make file access ten times faster than with a traditional tape drive. However, these memories would still be a long way from the roughly 10 ms of an HDD or less than 1 ms of an SSD.

In addition, the tape packed in the sealed housing would be better protected against environmental influences than with a conventional plastic cartridge. So less attention would have to be paid to temperatures and humidity. In addition, maintenance is simplified.

Possible storage capacities

For the 3.5-inch example, a tape length of 592 meters is calculated, which corresponds to around 60 percent of the length of the tape of an LTO-7 cartridge, which holds 960 meters. However, the storage capacity would be reduced accordingly: 6 TB or 15 TB with data compression is the LTO-7 standard. With 40 percent shorter tape, the Tape Embedded Drive would only offer 3.6 TB or 9 TB with compression. However, a variant in the larger 5.25-inch format could accommodate larger coils with a longer tape.

In the meantime, LTO-9 with 18 TB/45 TB has already arrived on the market and future generations should reach over 100 TB. A tape embedded drive equipped accordingly could then advance into similar regions. In addition, parallel research is also being carried out into magnetic tapes: Fujifilm and IBM want to make tapes with 580 TB possible with new materials and this by 2029, according to the announcement at the time.

Tape storage is cheap

As always, everything is also a question of costs. In terms of price per terabyte, tape storage is currently around €10 without compression and €4 with compression, which is far cheaper than hard drives, which are around €20 per TB. However, the costs for the additionally required tape drive are not included.

The drive with integrated tape would of course cost more than a tape cartridge and would probably be closer to the price level of an HDD , but potentially offer more storage space with the appropriate band.

It is also rather unlikely that hard drives will become significantly cheaper in the future. Because the effort to further increase the storage capacity from the current maximum of 26 TB continues to increase. In the meantime, up to 10 magnetic disks are squeezed into a case filled with helium and many tricks are used to achieve magnetization with the magnetic granules moving ever closer together. Lasers (keyword HAMR) will soon be able to help with this. None of this speaks for reduced costs per HDD and the capacities increase in much smaller steps than with tape storage.

One ​​disadvantage would be the Proximity to the system

If such a tape drive were to sit in the server like an HDD, this would also mean that a major advantage over previous tape cartridges would be lost: the option for storage that is physically isolated from the computing system, which protects against cyber attacks in a simple but effective way.

The new sales record for tape storage last spring was justified by the increasing risk of cyberattacks.

Is this WD's secret archive storage?< /h2>

Last year, Western Digital already mysteriously spoke of a special archive storage with 50 TB and more. Without giving any details, there has been a lot of speculation as to what it could be. The Tape Embedded Drive patents described above may be the answer.

Four segments for HDDs

It remains to be seen whether this is really the case and whether this technology will soon reach the market.

The Editorial thanks to community member “IliadZenith” for reporting this news.