The Fall of Tape-Based Storage: Is It Dead Yet?

The Fall of Tape-Based Storage: Is It Dead Yet?

June 17

In a sign of respect, we pay homage to the greats that have come before us. Despite once being a legend in its own time, tape rarely seems to get its due these days. While tape can be useful in certain instances, many people in the IT industry blame it for all the problems associated with archiving, backup, and disaster recovery, and many of their complaints are fair. Plenty of these same people want to see it replaced with alternatives such as virtual tape libraries, disk-to-disk systems, and the cloud. It’s safe to say that the tape-based game is a market on the sharp decline.

According to a report by Santa Clara Consulting Group, tape sales have been steadily dipping since 2007. This is despite the emergence and dominance of LTO cassettes. Another interesting stat I came across highlighted that roughly 15 percent of IT organizations have already replaced tape with disk-based backups.  By comparison, disk-driven systems are largely seen as the cheaper, faster, and more reliable option. There are also arguments for disk having better compatibility with modern storage infrastructures. Tape is trying to remain relevant, but whether or not their efforts are too-little-too-late is still to be seen. Whatever the case, tape still has some tricks up its sleeve.

Super Sony Cassette

The chatter around its imminent death hasn’t stopped tape manufacturers from attempting to not only keep the medium relevant, but advance it as well. For example, Sony recently previewed a product at the International Magnetics Conference that adds some big time beef to the old school cassette tape. By leveraging a method called sputter deposition, this mega-tape is capable of storing as much 185 TB per cassette. Its per inch capacity is comparable to what can be stored on three Blu-Ray disks. No word on when or if this robust technology will even be released, but it certainly has the industry talking.

The World’s Largest Tape Drive (by capacity)

Of course tape is only one part of the equation. Drives are needed to complement all this new innovation. Last year, Oracle unveiled what it calls the highest capacity and fastest tape drive in the world. The StorageTek T1000D stores up to a whopping 8.5 TB and boasts a data transfer rate of 252 MB per second. Users can add multiple volumes in drag and drop fashion, adding streamlined efficiency to large data storage and consolidation initiatives. According to Oracle, it’s a user-friendly,

low-cost storage solution with the potential to make a huge impact in the data center.

Made for Big Data

With its ability to store massive volumes of information, tape is well suited for big data, where it looks to be showing tremendous promise. Veteran hardware manufacturers IBM and FujiFilm teamed up to create a prototype that sets the world record for data storage capacity on tape. This tape technology reportedly stores 85.9 billion bits of info per square inch. For an industry standard LTO cartridge, that’s about 154 terabytes of raw data. The allied powers used various techniques to create this state-of-the art tape technology, including refining processes that optimize the reading and writing of data.

The Future of Tape

So is tape poised to make a big comeback? That’s all going to depend on adoption. If companies continue to shift towards the newer technology, its presence in the enterprise community will likely keep fading. As for alternatives, the cloud is pushing hard as one of the methods that make the most sense for consumers and businesses alike. Organizations may not want to put 100 percent faith in the cloud, but it is a convenient and cost effective option behind a localized strategy (like tape). It’s also part of a market on course to hit $47 billion by 2018.

Whether or not tape makes a strong rebound may not be the most important takeaway. Decline aside, tape is still the cornerstone of the storage architecture for many organizations. From offsite disaster recovery to retention and compliance needs, it’s somehow integrated into their backup plans. The pulse may be weaker, but it’s definitely alive.

Photo Credit: Cory Doctorow via Flickr