The History of Backup Tape

Tape History through the years

We have been closely associated with tape since the early 1980's and this page covers the history of tape and where it stands today.

The first major data storage breakthrough came in the early 1950’s with the widespread adoption of half-inch tape coated in Oxide. These tapes were wound on a 7, 8.5 or 10.5 inch open reels and were 300/600/1,200/2,400/3,600 or 4,800 feet in length. The open reel tape heads used were 7-track, 8-track or 9-track, it was the 9-track that finally became the de-facto standard as these were adopted by IBM. Many of the early open reel tape drives were vacuum column controlled and had sophisticated tension and spring arms to take up the slack tape when it was running at full speed and had a BOT (Beginning of Tape) and EOT (End of Tape) marker.

The amount of data that could be stored on tape was anything from 2MB – 220MB using a 6250bpi GCR machine. The tape densities were 200/556/800/1600/3200/6250 bpi, although the most common were 800/1600.

Open reel tape was able to store a far larger amount of data than was previously possible. The half-inch tapes persisted right up until the mid 80’s when they were replaced with cartridge tapes.

Fast forward to today and the modern cartridge tape technology that won out is LTO tape (Linear Tape Open) originally developed by IBM, HP and Seagate (Quantum purchased the rights from Seagate). The highest capacity LTO tape in use is LTO-9. An LTO-9 tape holds 18TB native with a transfer rate of 400MB/s. The roadmap for LTO tape goes through to LTO-12 storing natively 192TB’s!

Below are some of the tape companies that once existed and are no more or have moved on to offer alternatives.

Exabyte8mmWangtekWangDAT / QICTecmarDAT / QIC / Travan
Colorado Memory SystemsDC2000IomegaDitto / QIC / TravanEcrix8mm / VXA
Conner PeripheralsDAT / QICArchive CorpDAT / QICMaynardQIC
Cipher Data1/2", QICIrwin MagneticsQICAnritsu1/2"
Perkin Elmer1/2"Memorex1/2"DECDLT
Control Data1/2"Digi Data1/2"Fujitsu1/2"
M4 Data1/2" / DLTGraham Magnetics1/2"QuantumDLT