StorageTek tape formats

Storage Technology Corporation created several magnetic tape data storage formats. These are commonly used with large computer systems, typically in conjunction with a robotic tape library. The most recent format is the T10000. StorageTek primarily competed with IBM in this market, and continued to do so after its acquisition by Sun Microsystems in 2005 and again by Oracle in 2009.

Cartridge formats

Most (but not all) modern tape cartridges are 12 in (13 mm) format tape, first popularized by the IBM 3480 and DEC DLT formats. This is a small, rectangular and easily handled tape cartridge compared to the previously common 7-track and 9-track round tape reels. This form factor has proven to work well with stand alone drives and for use in automated tape libraries.

Nearly all 1/2" tape formats today are a single hub design, whereby the tape is wound onto a single hub, entirely within the external shell and presents one end for the tape drive to engage and thread into the tape drive for reading or writing. The mechanical design of this loading mechanism varies between different types of tape media and is a common source of failures. Usually the tape cartridge incorporates a switch that can be set to permit or forbid writing of data to the tape.

It is very common for the tape cartridge to be identified by an external label or sticker, which is normally both in human readable characters such as AB1023 and also in bar code, to be read by devices in an automated library.

At the end of the tape, the drive reversed the direction of tape motion, moved the read and write heads slightly vertically across the tape, and continued to write (or read) more data until the beginning of the tape was reached. This process could be repeated many times, laying down several track sets on the tape media in a serpentine recording mode. The Storage Tek 9840, 9940 and T10000 drives are all serpentine recording drives.

The Storage Tek SD3 drive was different, being based upon a modified video recording device. The tape advanced steadily, and data was recorded (or read) by a cylindrical head rotating at high speed and inclined at a small angle to the direction of tape motion, laying down (or reading back) a series of short data tracks very closely spaced together, helical scan.

The Storage Tek 9840 series of drives used a relatively unusual dual tape hub mechanism within the 3480 format shell, similar to the familiar audio tape format. This reduced the length of tape that could be stored inside the shell, and hence reduced the data capacity of the cartridge. However, it made the loading or threading of the tape into the drive very fast,[1] which was useful in business applications - and the drive price was set to a very high in comparison to the contemporary LTO drive, despite having one fifth of its capacity.[2]

Format Date Uncompressed capacity (GB) Data rate (MB/s) Load time (s) Reel configuration Announcement
4480 0.04 3 8
4490 0.80 4.5 8
9490 0.40-0.80 18-20 4.3
SD-3 1995 10-50 11-18 17
T9840A "Eagle" 1998 20 10 12 dual reel
T9840B 2001 20 19 12 dual reel
T9840C 2003 40 30 12 dual reel
T9840D 2008 75 30 16.5 dual reel
T9940A 2000 60 10 59 single reel
T9940B 2002 200 30 59 single reel
T10000 2006 500 120 62 single reel
T10000B 2008 1000 120 16 single reel
T10000C 2011 5000 240 13.1 single reel
T10000D 2013 8500 252   single reel

These tape formats are popular in mainframe environments.[2] Drives used ESCON, FICON, Fibre Channel, or SCSI interfaces.

SD-3 drive retired from use in a Powderhorn library
Close-up of the recording head of the SD-3 drive

SD-3 (Redwood)

This format used helical scan on a 1/2 inch tape. Three different capacities of tape cartridge were offered: 10, 25 and 50 GB, differing only in the length of tape wound on the reels and in the external media identification character, A, B or C, which was designed to be read by the Powderhorn automated library's bar-code reader system.

The drive was based on a professional Panasonic video recording system, modified to be suitable for digital data recording.[3] The result was a large, heavy drive of considerable complexity. Although somewhat difficult to maintain, it won popularity among some users due to the relatively low cost of the media per Gigabyte.


The T10000 is the latest Oracle/Sun StorageTek tape drive and cartridge product line for mainframe systems. The first model, the T10000, has a native capacity of 500 GB and a native transfer rate of 120 MB/s.[4] This line has seen several updates, the first being the T10000B drive , which doubles storage to 1 TB on the same cartridges as used by the T10000 drive, providing backward read compatibility. In January 2011,[5] the T10000C tape drive was introduced, along with a new tape cartridge—the "T10000 T2"—capable of storing 5 TB of data natively. The T10000D drive was announced in September 2013 with a native, non-compressed 8.5 TB capacity using the same T10000 T2 cartridge.[6][7] The T10000E drive is expected in late 2016 or early 2017 with capacity in the 12-16 TB range.[8]


  1. Austerberry, David (2003). Digital asset management. London: Focal. p. 257. ISBN 0-240-51924-8.
  2. 1 2 Apicella, Mario (2001-11-12). "Fast, flexible, expensive". InfoWorld. 23 (46): 65. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  3. Saffady, William (1998). Managing electronic records. ARMA International. p. 36. ISBN 0-933887-77-9.
  4. "Data Sheet Sun StorageTek T10000 Tape Drive" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  5. "Oracle Introduces StorageTek T10000C Tape Drive". Retrieved 2011-10-13.
  6. "Oracle Introduces StorageTek T10000D Tape Drive".
  7. "StorageTek T10000 Tape Cartridge Family Data Sheet" (PDF).
  8. "Oracle StorageTek Public Roadmap" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-17.
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