Plot Twist: Tape Never Went Away

by Rich Gadomski

Great things from the past have a way of reinventing themselves. In 2016, we’re getting a revamped Ghostbusters, resurgence of popular 90s Pokemon video games and we’re halfway to the hoverboard on which Marty McFly zoomed through the 80s.

The same is true with tape. All of those who touted “tape is dead” last decade probably rely on it today. Even Google relies on tape to safeguard its emails. The use cases for tape storage span from active archives, tape as NAS, storage tiering, and tape in the cloud. Thanks to the highest reliability, lowest cost and longevity, tape is still the standard for long-term data retention.

In Archiving, Tape Takes Center Stage
Does your company have an archiving strategy? Is it closely adhered to? A recent IDC study found that while more than half of companies have an archiving policy, only about 12% of them follow a consistent approach to archiving across the business. (IDC, 2015) When 50-70% of data is inactive, that means thousands of dollars are spent on storing stale data on power-hungry servers with overburdened backups. This inactive data may be better suited for an archive based on tape technology.

Today’s enterprise tape can hold 10 terabytes (TB) native capacity and perform at 360 MB/sec, while the latest generation of LTO boasts 6 TB native capacity. As the Tape Storage Council relayed in their recent industry report, “Tape cartridge capacities and data transfer rates are expected to grow at unprecedented rates for the foreseeable future with no fundamental technology limitations in sight.”

Got Big Data? Get Big Tape.
Tape is well positioned to effectively address many data intensive industries including high performance computing as well as data intensive applications.  Nasuni Corp predicts ~2.5 exabytes (EB) of data are created each day and by 2020, we will see a 4,300 percent increase in annual digital data generation

While tape has often been relegated to backup, shoved onto a shelf in a dark, locked room, there are benefits to more active use of tape. Let’s think beyond tape backup. With Linear Tape File System (LTFS) and high capacity Linear Tape Open (LTO) media, tape’s capabilities have exploded to archive, nearline storage and even the cloud. It can be used as a file or object-based medium to solve big data and storage needs of growing enterprises.

Tape by itself can meet big data applications and cloud needs, but paired with an intelligent NAS or front end software, tape can be transformed into an active storage tier that can cost as much as 15 times less than a disk-only storage system. When you look at the numbers, tape’s low total cost of ownership is unbeatable.

Beyond cost, companies need to know their archived data will be accessible for years to come. Storage media reliability is often expressed in terms of bit error rate – that’s how many bits may experience an error per an amount of media. The bit error rate for both enterprise tape and LTO-7 tape is rated at 1×1019, making the top rated tapes 1,000 times more reliable than the top rated HDDs at 1×1016. By comparison 1019 or 10 quintillion (a billion billion) is the number of millimeters from here to the next closest star. The odds of a meteor landing on your house is one in 182 trillion (a million million) and the odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 292 million. In any case, these are huge numbers and the BER for tape is impressive; expect tape to achieve even higher levels of reliability going forward. In addition, an LTO tape has a shelf life of 30 years, versus only 5-7 for disk.

Where to Use Tape
There’s a huge proliferation of tape-based storage being put into place right now, but to make it truly accessible, intelligent front-end software (or hardware) must manage tape. This way users and applications never even see the tape layer, all the while businesses benefit by seeing money flow out of expensive primary storage and maintenance and into new revenue-generating initiatives.

  • Active Archiving. Create “tape as NAS” by pairing tape with intelligent software and realize low-cost, reliable storage that doesn’t devour your budget. This effectively eliminates manual interaction with tape. Data can be transparently accessed and to an end-user, it looks just like opening a file stored on a local hard drive.
  • Cloud. Backing up cloud storage with tape helps users gain peace of mind in the security and availability of their content.
  • High Performance Computing. For applications that generate thousands or even millions of data points per day, tape is the most cost effective medium for securely preserving this information. There are sophisticated solutions that bridge performance storage and secure tape-based archives.
  • Backup and Disaster Recovery. Finally, tape is still good for backup and DR, but take a moment to check the state of your storage with this free application: Some of the data you’re backing up might be better suited for a protected archive.

What’s Next? Innovations on the Horizon
Tape has moved well beyond backups and is positioned to help lower storage costs for emerging data-intensive industries such as the Internet, media and entertainment, aerospace, research, medical and many others. More than 300 million LTO tapes have been shipped since the format’s inception – that’s more than 130 EBs (uncompressed) of data protected using LTO technology. With Fujifilm and IBM developing record-breaking data densities, tapes that span triple digit terabyte capacities per cartridge are not too far off in the future.

Do you have another use case for tape? Drop us a line and we’ll cover it in our next segment.

Rich Gadomski is a member of the Tape Storage Council and the vice president of marketing at Fujifilm Recording Media USA.


Tape Storage Council 2015 Memo –

IDC paper –

Clipper Group Reference –

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