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There’s still a lot of life left in tape backup

News Analysis
Mar 20, 20183 mins
Backup and Recovery

From capacity to security, there’s still a lot to like about this venerable format.

bridgestone data center 1968
Credit: Bridgestone

This industry likes to abandon technologies as soon as it adopts them, but a few find a way to hang around. I recently purchased a car, and in the finance office was a dot matrix printer, chugging away at the same multipage forms I saw used more than 25 years ago.

Tape backup is also hanging in there. With data being produced in ever-increasing numbers, it has to be stored somewhere, and hard drives aren’t enough. For true mass backup, enterprises are still turning to tape backup, and the LTO Program Technology Provider Companies (TPCs) say 2017 shipments grew 12.9 percent over 2016 to 108,457 petabytes (PB) of tape capacity.

LTO TPCs is a group consisting of three tape backup providers: HPE, IBM, and Quantum. There are other tape backup providers, such as Oracle, which inherited the StorageTek business from Sun Microsystems and still sells them, but it was not included in the count.

Actual unit shipments dropped slightly in 2017, which the organization attributes to customers waiting for new LTO-8-based units to ship. LTO-8 technology offers a compressed transfer rate of 750MB/sec., an improvement over LTO-7’s 400MB/sec. And capacity is increasing to 30TB compressed per cartridge, which is up from 22TB compressed in LTO-7. So, the TPCs are anticipating even higher growth in 2018 as the new LTO-8 products come to market.

To put this into perspective, 2PB of data is equivalent to roughly the amount of information in all United States’ research libraries. Multiply that number by 54,228 and you have all of the tape capacity shipped in 2017 for three companies.

To get 2PB capacity in hard disks, assuming you use the largest capacity drive on the market at 14TB, and you would need 142 drives. Now multiply 142 by 54,228 to equal the total tape capacity of 2017, and you can see why tape is not going anywhere. Tape advances are not stopping. IBM recently announced tape cartridges with 330GB capacity.

Tape also has another appeal: it’s offline. If you suffer a data breach, the intruder can get at anything on your hard drive storage arrays, but there’s no getting at a tape cartridge sitting in a holder. It’s physically disconnected from anything, and even if it were seated in the reader, tape drives are not readable like a hard disk.

Capacity, security, offline storage. There’s nothing to compete with tape, so despite repeated rumors of its demise (like the mainframe), it’s not going anywhere.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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