Tape is dead; long live tape. Or is it?

By: In: Data Management On: May 25, 2011

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best when he declared that, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Despite countless blogs and commentaries to the contrary, not only is tape still alive and well as a backup and archiving medium for data storage, but there is a growing list of recent announcements from storage and data protection manufacturers highlighting new tape product offerings resulting from their continued investment in this “legacy” technology. Just peruse some of these recent press releases from Quantum, Oracle, and IBM. And on the analyst front, Santa Clara Consulting Group forecasts that LTO cartridge sales will continue to grow at an annual pace of ~1% over the next several years, to a total of $720 million by 2015, whereas ESG projects that storage of digital archives to tape will increase six-fold between 2010 and 2015, to more than 81 thousand petabytes. That’s over 81 exabytes (for those SI decimal prefix aficionados out there)!

But tape’s role in the datacenter—as well as IT’s reliance on tape—isn’t static by any means … it’s definitely evolving from how it’s been traditionally used in the past. While less than a decade ago tape was nearly always used as a primary means of short-term data backup, today that application of tape still predominates but it’s begun to increasingly share the spotlight with other uses, such as a secondary form of backup and/or for long-term archiving.

Today’s prudent and risk-averse IT departments rely on more than a single technology to ensure that their backups are complete, accessible, and usable. For example, the primary form of data backup might be to online, onsite disk or to online, offsite cloud, while tape is employed as a secondary form of backup (offline, and either onsite or offsite). This so-called “backup of the backup” approach (or backup of last resort) has numerous advantages in its favor, especially when you consider the low storage cost per gigabyte compared to disk, not to mention the cost savings of not having to supply the power and cooling necessary to keep disks spinning healthily and happily over the long term. And anecdotally in support of this approach, there have been recent well-publicized instances of high-tech powerhouses’ reliance on tape as a backup of last resort when their primary disk-based backups either failed or somehow became corrupted.

If low-tech “good old tape” is still being actively used in concert with disk- or cloud-based systems as a viable, reliable, and cost-effective “belt and suspenders” backup approach for high-tech giants, why shouldn’t every IT organization consider tape in this context too? What about you?

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About the author

Richard Kane

Richard Kane is currently a product marketeer supporting Iron Mountain’s data protection line of business. Mr. Kane has over 30 years of professional experience in the medical devices, telecommunications, and information technology industries, in roles encompassing R&D, professional services, sales engineering, product management, and product marketing. In additional to his current tenure at Iron Mountain, Mr. Kane has previously held positions at corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, BBN, and GTE, as well as several technology startups. Mr. Kane received his undergraduate degree from MIT and his graduate degree from Brown University.