LTFS (Linear Tape File System) is a non-proprietary, free, ‘open source’ system that can make a single LTO-5 or newer LTO tape drive as easy to use as a removable hard drive. LTFS formatted tapes have two partitions, one for the files (media essence) and another that contains an index (coded in human-readable XML) describing the files, their locations on the tape and optionally with extended attributes (metadata).
Thus LTFS tapes are self-describing of their content like a removable hard drive or flash drive and without the requirement for proprietary software. LTFS is support by LTO-5 and newer generation LTO tape drives. IBM and Oracle now support LTFS on their Enterprise class tape systems (IBM TS140 and TS1050 and Oracle T10000C & D tape drives). The use of LTFS does not change the backwards compatibility of LTO drives: they are fully compatible one generation back and can read tapes from two generations back. LTFS tapes self-describing and open source features are of particularly high value in disaster recovery and interchange scenarios. In a basic sense, the LTFS index partition echoes the function of the time-code track on professional video-tape and it can be used in a similar fashion to access individual files (shots or frames) on tape unlike TAR or TAR-like approaches.
One of the key benefits of LTFS is it makes data tapes interchangeable between all LTO-5 or newer tape drive users using LTFS. This interchangeability is due to the LTFS partitioned tape format specification being agreed to by the various manufacturers of the drives (The Ultrium Consortium: HP, IBM and Quantum, also known as the LTO Program). The other key component is the file system which provides the basic disk-like functionality. By implementing the LTFS tape format, with or without using LTFS file system code, solution developers can enhance their particular applications, solutions or appliances to take advantage of the lower costs of data-tape vs. hard disk drive or solid-state memory. SNIA (Storage Network Industry Association) is now the controlling organization for the LTFS specification. SNIA is also managing the effort of moving LTFS through the ISO standards process.
LTFS in its simplest form for a single tape drive can deliver the same basic functions as a disk drive when connected to a workstation or server, but of course, in a linear manner. New files are appended at the end of previously written files. Files are found using a byte-offset location on the tape and then read. This is very analogous to how professional video tape is used including the ability to search for a frame of video using time code. For higher-value, more complex applications which might utilize large robotic tape libraries, developers have and are building solutions and appliances on LTFS to take advantage of its features and benefits. Here is a list of use-case requirements that can be met with LTFS solutions available today or very soon:
- Extending or backing up SAN or NAS capacity with lower cost, more durable and more robust LTO tape solutions… (these include media specific SANs for AVID or Final Cut Pro environments or more generic ones like Isilon)
- Network Attached Storage (appears as a NAS appliance to users but it is primarily an LTFS/LTO-5 library using a low percentage of disks)
- Disaster Recovery (made more effective with self-describing content)
- Digital media essence distribution system to support file-based broadcast play-out operations or production workflows for VFXs or digital animation (similar to HSM data movers for media files)
- On-set capture and backup of digital cameras
Our firm, MTMP, is able to offer many of these LTFS enabled products for the above and other use-cases. Please let us know if you would like to know more about them or would like to explore how LTFS might benefit your business.
Useful LTFS Websites (as of 12/4/2014):
- LTO Project: www.lto.org/technology/ltfs
- SNIA LTFS effort: http://www.snia.org/tech_activities/standards/curr_standards/ltfs
- HP LTFS: www.hp.com/us/en/products/storage-software/product-detail.html?oid=4249221
- IBM LTFS: www-03.ibm.com/systems/storage/tape/ltfs/
- Oracle (Sun/STK) www.oracle.com/us/products/servers-storage/storage/tape-storage/ltfs/overview/index.html
- Quantum LTFS: www.quantum.com/Products/TapeDrives/LTOUltrium/LTO-5/LTFS/Index.aspx