The 2014 International Magnetics Conference in Germany doesn't sound like a particularly sexy event, but it's where Sony has just made a staggering announcement: They've developed a new kind of magnetic tape—you know, like in those old cassettes you threw out twenty years ago—that can store 148GB per square inch. That's more than 70 times the capacity of what your average tape storage media can hold, and since tape is spooled up, it means they can max out a single cartridge to hold 185 terabytes. As your average Blu-Ray holds 50GB worth of data, that means one of Sony's cassettes can hold some 3,700 copies of Transformers 2.
The question you're probably asking is, why the heck is Sony still mucking around with tapes, which have to be rewound and fast-forwarded and rolled through to get to the data you're trying to retrieve, which takes forever? The answer is, to save both space and energy. For people that need to store massive amounts of data, whether sneaky governments, science facilities or even Facebook, three thousand seven hundred Blu-Rays takes up a lot of space that could be better taken up by just a single cassette. And it takes a lot less energy to roll through a tape than it does to fire a laser over a disc.
Plus, believe it or not, there's still a market for tape storage—and it's actually growing. According to Forbes, "Magnetic tape is still a viable option for mass data storage and backup.... Interestingly, the Tape Storage Council claimed that tape storage shipments grew 13% in 2012, and were projected to grow to 26% in 2013."
So it looks like this is how things are shaking out: When you need superfast data retrieval, you'll go with flash memory. When you need to store relatively large amounts of data with relatively fast access, you'll go Blu-Ray. And when you need to store massive amounts of data, don't want to spend a lot on energy and are willing to wait for a tape head to read it, you'll go with Sony's tapes.
While I'm in awe of Sony's tech guys, I'm a bit miffed at their industrial designers. Guys, would it have been that much extra trouble to make those tapes look like this?