Linear Tape Open

What Does Linear Tape Open Mean?

Linear tape open (LTO) is a magnetic tape storage open technology developed in the late 1990s by Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Certance (now Quantum Corp.) as an alternative standard to proprietary magnetic tape formats.


Magnetic tape storage technology has been in existence for more than 50 years. Even today, this technology is tightly controlled, creating limited availability and a fairly high price.

Since 2002, LTO has been the top selling super tape format. It is widely used by companies of all sizes, primarily for backup.

Techopedia Explains Linear Tape Open

Tape cartridges have been around for decades and are used as a large data storage backup systems and fast access data libraries. LTO technology uses the well-used data cartidge format with a 1/2 inch tape storing up to 1.5 terabytes. The cartridges can be retrieved and stored using robotic mechanisms creating huge fast-access tape library systems such as at the Atomic Research Center in Lucerne, Switzerland. These libraries contain thousands of tapes all available to a robotic arm which can deliver them to a read head in a matter of seconds.

LTO magnetic tape can last for 15 to 30 years, withstand 5,000 loads/unload per cartridge, and hold up to 260 full file passes (writings to fill an entire tape).

Every fourth- and fifth-generation LTO cartridge has an 8 KB cartridge memory chip inside it (4 KB for all preceding generations), divided into 256 blocks of 32 bytes each. It can read and/or written one block at a time by a radio frequency interface. The memory is used to identify individual tapes, tape generations and storage use information.

The availability of large data storage on small solid state and hard disk devices is eroding the market for tape storage technology such as LTO.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.