NSA storing all your data for decades… on magnetic tape? Millions of years on tungsten disks?

tapestorage… Tape is the oldest computer storage medium still in use. It was first put to work on a UNIVAC computer in 1951. But although tape sales have been falling since 2008 and dropped by 14% in 2012, according to the Santa Clara Consulting Group, tape’s decline has now gone into reverse: sales grew by 1% in the last quarter of 2012 and a 3% rise is expected this year.

Alberto Pace, head of data and storage at CERN, says that tape has four advantages over hard disks for the long-term preservation of data. The first is speed. Although it takes about 40 seconds for an archive robot to select the right tape and put it in a reader, once it has loaded, extracting data from that tape is about four times as fast as reading from a hard disk.

The second advantage is reliability. When a tape snaps, it can be spliced back together. The loss is rarely more than a few hundred megabytes—a bagatelle in information-technology circles. When a terabyte hard disk fails, by contrast, all the data on it may be lost. The consequence at CERN, specifically, is that a few hundred megabytes of its 100-petabyte tape repository are, on average, lost every year. Of the 50 petabytes of data held on hard disk, however, it loses a few hundred terabytes in the same period.

The third benefit of tapes is that they do not need power to preserve data held on them. Stopping a disk rotating by temporarily turning off the juice—a process called power cycling—increases the likelihood that it will fail. The fourth benefit is security. If a hacker with a grudge managed to break into CERN’s data centre, he could delete all 50 petabytes of the disk-based data in minutes. To delete the same amount from the organisation’s tapes would take years.

Tape has two other benefits, as Evangelos Eleftheriou, manager of storage technologies at IBM’s research laboratory in Zurich, points out. It is cheaper than disks (a gigabyte of disk storage costs 10 cents, versus 4 cents for tape), and it lasts longer. Tapes can still be read reliably after three decades, against five years for disks. …

But even today’s tape cartridges, which can hold up to six terabytes of compressed data, are not up to the job of dealing with the data deluge that is around the corner. Much higher densities than that are needed. In 2010 Dr Eleftheriou and his team, in collaboration with Fujifilm, set a new record. They demonstrated a tape that can store 29.5 gigabits per square inch—which, for a standard 1km tape, translates as 35 terabytes of data on a single cartridge. But even that is not enough for Dr Eleftheriou. He has now set himself the challenge of developing a tape with a density of 100 gigabits per square inch, and creating the equipment necessary to read it. If he is successful, a single cartridge will be able to store more than 100 terabytes. … Dr Eleftheriou hopes to have a prototype ready in 2014.

via Monitor: Magnetic tape to the rescue | The Economist.

This may answer my question about how the NSA stores all of that data on everyone. Tape. No wonder they need so much space.

 … Some reports have suggested the data center could hold as much as 5 zetabytes, an astronomical sum equivalent to 62 billion stacked iPhone 5s. King called that number “difficult, if not impossible to conceive.”

“That would mean deploying about 5 million storage systems running roughly 1.25 billion, 4-terabyte hard drives,” he said.

The agency will neither confirm nor deny specific details about the 100,000 square foot center, which comprises four separate data halls.


Not hard drives, think tape:

Oracle’s StorageTek T10000C tape drive lets you boost storage capacity and performance without increasing your footprint. It delivers up to 5.5 TB native, making it ideal for 24×7 datacenter operations with growing volumes of data. The StorageTek T10000C Tape Drive also delivers exceptional performance with up to 252MB/s of native performance.


For 5 zetabytes (wild guess by FauxNews?) you’d only need  909,000,000 (909 million) tape drives. Much better than hard drives if you want the data to last for decades. If they got a super deal, say $2,500 per drive plus a free 5.5 TB tape with each unit, that would cost about $2.3 trillion dollars. Wait, how many trillions did Donald Rumsfeld tell the world the day before 9/11 was missing from the Pentagon budget? Oh, I remember now, it was $2.3 trillion dollars.

Just one wild (read practical, reasonable) guess about where the money might have gone. Of course, with that amount of money, you need to think differently. They might very well have some totally new super storage technology that stores data in three dimensions in crystal cubes which last millions of years.

Damn. Don’t you wish that before you started using telephones and the Internet someone had told you everything you ever do and say will be recorded and stored for millions of years?

No one told me that. I’m telling you. Use your time wisely! Research and solve some problems for the planet instead of just being a vegetable and watching cartoons or having drama with people who don’t have their heads on straight.

How are we to preserve information about our civilisation on a timescale that outlasts it? In other words, what technology can reliably store information for 1 million years or more? Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Jeroen de Vries at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and a few pals. These guys have designed and built a disk capable of storing data over this timescale. And they’ve performed accelerated ageing tests which show it should be able to store data for 1 million years and possibly longer. – (Silicon-Nitride/Tungsten Based Medium) link, link, link

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