Posted in: IBM Research-Almaden, Open Source, Storage

Linear Tape File System now an International Standard

In 2011, IBM’s Linear Tape File System (LTFS) earned an Emmy Award in Engineering, after being recognized by FOX Networks for “improving the ability of media companies to capture, manage and exploit content in digital form, fundamentally changing the way that audio and video content is managed and stored.”

Now, the International Standardization Organization (ISO) has named LTFS an International Standard (ISO/IEC 20919:2016). The ISO brings together experts to share knowledge and develop international standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.

My team’s road to standardization was a long one – it took six years from the time the project was first announced – but we are thrilled with this recognition. Standardization by ISO is one more step towards guaranteeing that the LTFS format is a truly open standard that will continue to be available and usable for the foreseeable future.

In my opinion, two of the major inhibitors to the widespread use of tape technology for data storage have been the lack of a standard format for data storage and interchange on tape, and its perceived difficulty of use. LTFS addresses both of these problems by providing a general-purpose, open format that can easily be used like any other storage medium. As the world’s data continues to grow at an increasing pace, and the need for affordable, large-scale storage becomes more important, the standardization of LTFS will make the use of tape for long-term, affordable storage easier and more attractive.

L-R: Michael Richmond, Brian Biskeborn, David Pease, Arnon Amir, and Shinobu Fujihara. Notably absent are Ed Childers and Lucas Villa-Real

L-R: Michael Richmond, Brian Biskeborn, David Pease, Arnon Amir, and Shinobu Fujihara. (not pictured: Ed Childers and Lucas Villa-Real)

Use Case: Making digital media storage open and future-proof

Just as in personal photography, the last couple of decades have seen a major shift from analog and film technologies to digital ones in the Media and Entertainment industry, where modern cameras record directly to digital media. This has led to the need for new technologies to replace traditional film as a long-term storage medium for television and movies.

Film has some specific advantages for the Media & Entertainment industry that a new technology needs to replicate, including long shelf life, inexpensive, and zero-power storage, and a format that is “future-proof.” Tape storage is a perfect match to several of these criteria, including long (30+ years) shelf life, and zero-power, inexpensive storage. However, a stumbling block for the wide-spread acceptance of tape for digital storage in the media and entertainment business had been the lack of an open, easy-to-use, future-proof standard for the format of the data on tape. You can imagine an entertainment company using proprietary storage software, for example, only to run into problems like the provider going out of business or increasing its software costs to an unacceptable level.

We created LTFS to be an open and future-proof format from the beginning: open, because when we published the format, we made it publicly available at no charge, and future-proof because the format is self-documenting and can be easily accessed without the need for proprietary software.

Being an international standard should make anyone who is considering the use of LTFS even more comfortable with the fact that it is an open standard that is not owned or controlled by any single company, and is a format that will continue to be supported in the future.  As such, becoming an international standard has the potential to increase the use, and therefore the value, of LTFS across industries.


David Pease

Distinguished Engineer, and Manager, Exploratory Storage Systems IBM Research-Almaden