LTFS (Linear Tape File System) Introduction

A Brief Explanation: With film and video broadcast industries experiencing a large increase in the amount of data they utilize in day to day operations, they are faced with the challenge of finding a reliable, cost effective, easy to use medium to access and archive their data. LTO tape arose as a cost effective, reliable meduim for long term archiving, but without a standand on how the data on the tapes was structured, users were having compatability issues between different manufactures drives and different versions of LTO Tape. LTFS (Linear Tape File System) was introduced as a standard and defines the organization of data and Metadata on tape, Providing direct access to files on the tape, and drag and drop simplicity much like a hard disk drive.

Pure LTFS™: 1 Beyond has introduced and trademarked the term “Pure LTFS™”. What exactly does this refer to? A recent observation by customers and partners is that 1 Beyond is possibly the only company to currently have products using and fully supporting LTFS without unnecessary additional layers of Hardware and Software. This is an extremely important differentiator because this translates into, operational simplicity and more cost effective solutions with higher transfer speeds and increased overall efficiencies in workflows. This is not to mention the important reasons for fully supporting the LTFS standard to achieve its very goals.

Why Problems Exist: The companies that existed and developed products during the LTO1 through LTO4 period, have a very large investment in overcoming the short comings of these early tape drives and lack of standard software. Their solutions may appear complicated, but the custom proprietary access software and cashing hardware overcame many early (Pre-LTFS) shortcomings. And the side benefit was that its use locked a customer into the manufacturer’s systems for the future to be able to read their library of archive tapes. It is only natural for these manufacturers to attempt to preserve their investment in this software and hardware which emulated LTFS before it was available on the LTO-5 drives. However this approach, while desirable for the manufacturer, forces their customers to go through extra layers of hardware and software prolonging the very problems that LTFS was developed to avoid. This not only adds costs, but it slows down data transfers and worst yet, in most cases it violates the LTFS standard by writing extra non-LTFS information on the LTO tapes negating the LTFS goals.

Ease of Use: An example of these extra layers creating major technical disadvantages and expense is that a Layer running the Windows OS cannot share direct access to an LTO drive over a corporate network. This leads to the necessity of caching all of the data in an extra layer even with extremely fast LTO-5 and LTO-6 drives where caching isn’t necessary.

Data Exchange: Another obvious example of a non-LTFS standard is File Spanning across tapes. This was perhaps desirable or even necessary for certain markets when tapes were small e.g. 100-200GBs (see below), but not necessary or efficient with today’s tape and future tape capacities.

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The concept and indeed Main Goal of LTFS was to overcome the industry’s problems of Proprietary Software and non-standard LTO tape formats making data exchange difficult and long Archive Life impractical. If the LTFS Standard is followed to the letter, a tape can be exchanged freely between Operating Systems from MAC to PC to LINUX and at the same time between drives from IBM, HP and Quantum (members of the LTFS Standards Consortium) without any Proprietary Software. All that is required, as with most devices is a free driver.

Practical Archive Longevity: This LTFS standard was also created to guarantee another important Goal of being able to read archive tapes 30-50 years in the future without having to maintain 30 year old systems and software to do so. In the Media and Entertainment market, one compelling attraction to the LTFS standard was to eliminate expensive and impractical on-going maintenance of old analog and digital Video Tape decks. This savings alone can often pay for moving archived video and data to LTO tape. To avoid the problem of future data recovery, the commitment for the LTO-5 and the following LTO drives is the manufacturers will continue to manufacture them so they will be commercially available at reasonable prices 10-15 years into the future. This combined with the commitment to be able to read legacy tapes that are 3 LTO Generations back, makes the goal of long projected archive life of LTO tapes with LTFS realistic and by design achievable. Background: 1 Beyond was asked at the beginning of LTFS development by IBM to be a Strategic Development Partner representing the M&E market. This afforded very early exposure to the LTFS code and standards concept. 1 Beyond’s product design philosophy has always been to develop and support Open non-Propitiatory Standards. This combined with firsthand experience with our industry’s early LTO problems, were compelling reasons to understand and support the viability and necessity of this standard. 1 Beyond started product and systems development supporting the LTFS Standard immediately. With no baggage of legacy hardware and software, our resulting LTO products were fast, efficient and very cost effective – indeed Pure LTFS™.

Terry Cullen

Terry Cullen

CEO at 1 Beyond
Terry Cullen

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