LTFS – The Inside Scoop (Part 1)

ltfsWhen you want to save big data files, view a directory list of the files, or open and move the files, you want it to be intuitive and easy, just like using a USB storage stick!  Wouldn’t it be great if storing big data could also be cost effective and last for decades? We have the answer: LTO tape technology combined with LTFS (Linear Tape File System).

This edition of BlogBytes will provide the inside scoop on what LTFS is, how it works with LTO tape and amazing benefits…read on!

First question…What is LTFS? 

(Figure 1) Tape Drive and its folders/files accessed in OS Directory

(Figure 1) Tape Drive and its folders/files accessed in OS Directory

Quite simply, LTFS is a small open software specification, a kind of software driver, which allows a simple and intuitive means of accessing data files on tape. It is loaded one time on a workstation or server, presenting tape as an extension of the operating system.* The tape appears as a drive letter, icon, or folder in the OS directory just like other storage devices on the system. No proprietary backup software is needed. This simplifies things while also reducing costs. It’s as easy as clicking on the tape drive icon, and then viewing and accessing sub-folders and files (Figure 1). Files can be opened, moved, copied, and deleted like using a disk or USB stick. Drag and drop files to and from the tape…. it’s that easy!

What is the secret sauce that makes LTFS work?

LTFS, in use since 2010, utilizes media partitioning (available on LTO-5, 6 and 7 drives) to create a self-describing storage medium.  The tape is logically divided “lengthwise” into two partitions (Figure 2):

  • Index partition: contains file system info, index, metadata
  • Content partition: contains the files/content bodies
(Figure 2) LTFS Media Partitioning (BOT=Beginning of Tape; EOT=End of Tape)

(Figure 2) LTFS Media Partitioning (BOT=Beginning of Tape; EOT=End of Tape)

When mounting the tape in the drive, the index is automatically copied to the workstation or server memory for fast access and updates to the index as files are created or changed. Periodically the index is backed up to the content partition of the tape so that there are always multiple copies of the index for safe keeping. You don’t have to think about it, it’s automatic – part of the secret sauce.

Can an LTFS tape be transported?

Since each tape is self-describing, which means it has its index/metadata with it at all times, the tape can be transported and used on other LTO/LTFS capable systems.* No more worrying about traditional backup software and version compatibility. Pop the tape into an LTO/LTFS capable drive and it can appear in the OS directory for easy access. When dealing with 15 terabytes of LTO-7 tape data, being able to send a tape across town or across the continent is an easy and cost effective “high bandwidth in a box” strategy.

What does LTFS and LTO cost?

LTFS for a stand-alone drive is free! That’s right, no software fee. Go to your drive vendor’s website to download the stand-alone version. LTFS for use with tape libraries, media management systems, and specialty deployments are also available from a large community of LTFS supporting vendors.

LTO tape has been found to be the lowest cost form of data storage as shown in a number of studies. In a 9 year study conducted by The Clipper Group, the average disk storage system was found to be 26 times more costly than the average LTO tape library system (Figure 3). Alarmingly, the cost of energy alone for the average disk system was more than the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the tape system. Let’s think about that, the disk system could be given away for no charge, but the disk system energy costs would still make it more costly than the TCO of the average tape system. LTO tape is very green and can have a shelf life of up to 30 years!* A tape cartridge on a shelf requires no power.

Figure 3) LTO Tape System is 26 Times Less Costly than Disk System

(Figure 3) LTO Tape System is 26 Times Less Costly than Disk System

LTO technology with LTFS is easy to use and cost effective. The ease of use has led to the integration of LTO technology into software defined storage implementations. Stay tuned for an upcoming edition of BlogBytes that will explore some exciting LTFS use cases in a variety of verticals.blog5

Come see LTFS with LTO-7 tape technology demonstrated live by the LTO program at the upcoming ISC West security conference in Las Vegas, booth #4029, April 6-8, 2016 and at NAB in Las Vegas, booth #SL11508, April 16-21, 2016.

*LTFS is available for versions of Windows, MAC OS, and Linux. LTFS partitioning is available on LTO generation 5, 6 and 7 drives. LTO drive technology offers backward generation compatibly: read back two generations, write back one generation (e.g. an LTO-7 drive can read LTO-5 and 6 tapes and can write to an LTO-6 tape). LTO tape shelf life is a media vendor estimate.