Magnetic tape: The surprisingly retro manner massive tech shops your knowledge

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


13 December 2022

A man replaces a magnetic tape data storage drive in an early model office computer, mid 1970s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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

Hulton Archive/Getty Pictures

WE HUMANS are hoarders. We like to amass info. And lately, with digital storage at our fingertips, we stockpile ludicrous quantities of the stuff, whether or not it’s on arduous drives at residence or within the cloud. You is perhaps stunned to find, nonetheless, {that a} hefty chunk of the data we’re holding on to right now – from backups of your emails and photographs to particle collision knowledge from the Giant 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 knowledge is saved on tape – many hundreds of kilometres of the stuff. Whereas that will induce nostalgia for individuals who are sufficiently old to recollect making mixtapes and recording songs off the radio to cassette, tape expertise has superior enormously. A lot in order that researchers right now are growing its storage capability at a charge that outstrips its rivals.

Even tape has its limits, although. We’re producing a lot knowledge that ultimately it is going to be unattainable to retailer every 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 kids of the Nineteen Eighties, even whether it is principally the identical expertise. The distinction is that old style cassette tape is analogue, whereas the model used for knowledge storage right now is digital – that means the data is saved in zeroes and ones.

Higher than arduous drives

When IBM introduced …

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