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Magnetic tape: The surprisingly retro approach large tech shops your information



From household images to particle physics information, we generate stupendous quantities of digital info – and far of it’s saved on old style plastic cartridges


13 December 2022

A magnetic-tape drive in an workplace pc in the mid-Nineteen Seventies.

Hulton Archive/Getty Photographs

WE HUMANS are hoarders. We like to amass info. And today, with digital storage at our fingertips, we stockpile ludicrous quantities of the stuff, whether or not it’s on arduous drives at dwelling or within the cloud. You could be shocked to find, nonetheless, {that a} hefty chunk of the knowledge we’re holding on to as we speak – from backups of your emails and images to particle collision information from the Massive Hadron Collider – is saved not on smooth arduous drives, however on clunky plastic cartridges containing coiled ribbons of magnetic tape.

That’s proper, a lot of the world’s information is saved on tape – many hundreds of kilometres of the stuff. Whereas which will induce nostalgia for individuals who are sufficiently old to recollect making mixtapes and recording songs off the radio to cassette, tape know-how has superior enormously. A lot in order that researchers as we speak are rising its storage capability at a price that outstrips its rivals.

Even tape has its limits, although. We’re producing a lot information that finally it will likely be not possible to retailer every little thing. Then what?

To be clear, the tape we’re speaking about right here isn’t fairly the identical because the cassettes that have been as soon as stacked excessive within the bedrooms of youngsters of the Nineteen Eighties, even whether it is mainly the identical know-how. The distinction is that old style cassette tape is analogue, whereas the model used for information storage as we speak is digital – which means the knowledge is saved in zeroes and ones.

Higher than arduous drives

When IBM introduced …

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