LTO-10 Tape Capacity to Top Out At 48 TB Sometime in the Early 2020s

The LTO Program, which includes Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Quantum, announced a new roadmap including ninth- and tenth-generation LTO Ultrium technology that tops out at capacities of 48 TB in a single tape cartridge supporting data transfer rates of 1100 MB/second.

For marketing purposes, those numbers are generally inflated. LTO tape specs are usually promoted with the assumption that both storage capacity and transfer rates will benefit from a compression ratio of 2:1 through LTO-5 and 2.5:1 beginning with LTO-6 (the latter thanks to a larger compression history buffer). It’s a legitimate calculation. However, archives from production and post tend to be highly compressed to begin with, mostly negating the advantages of additional LTO compression. Keep that in mind as you look at the following chart — you can divide each figure by 2.5 in order to get the actual raw-data capabilities of the drives.

The official LTO roadmap. Divide each number by 2.5 to see the real-world specs before compression is factored in.

Each new generation of LTO drive will include full backward compatibility with the previous generation, as well as the ability to read (but not necessarily write) tapes created two generations earlier.

If you’re wondering when those next-generation LTO tapes will hit the market, keep guessing. The LTO Program will say only that “the technology provider companies (HP, IBM and Quantum) strive for release of new technology every 24–36 months.”

With that in mind, the chart below tracks the evolution of LTO technology over time—and includes our best guess as to when new generations will become available, based on past release patterns. (If we’re right, those LTO-6 tapes you’re writing today will become unreadable by the latest generation of drives sometime in 2020, so make sure those data-migration policies are in place.)

Generations of LTO Tape Formats
Capacity Maximum Speed Date of Introduction
(* = estimated)

LTO-1 100 GB 20 MB/sec 2000
LTO-2 300 GB 40 MB/sec 2003
LTO-3 400 GB 80 MB/sec 2005
LTO-4 800 GB 120 MB/sec 2007
LTO-5 1.5 TB 140 MB/sec 2010
LTO-6 2.5 TB 160 MB/sec 2012
LTO-7 6.4 TB 315 MB/sec 2015*
LTO-8 12.8 TB 472 MB/sec 2017-2018*
LTO-9 25 TB 708 MB/sec 2020*
LTO-10 48 TB 1100 MB/sec 2022–2023*

The LTO Program will be exhibiting at IBC in Hall 9, Stand B25.