The resurgence of tape drives in the era of the cloud?

Posted by Mike Vizard on Dec 21, 2015 12:54:01 PM

Tape backupIn theory, tape drives are supposed to be an extinct technology that was usurped by magnetic disk drives long ago. In reality, tape drives are experiencing a resurgence in the age of the cloud. It turns out that given the need to frequently store data forever now, the economics of tape is resulting in increased usage of the storage medium.

In a memo issued last week, The Tape Storage Council notes that the amount of data that will be created between now and 2020 is expected to increase 4,300 percent. Yes, you read that right. 4,300 percent.

Naturally, the vast majority of that data is going to be accessed irregularly. As a result, cloud service providers that have to store that data for extended periods of time are making more use of tape for archival storage. Advances in linear tape operation (LTO) technologies make that data still comparatively accessible at a fraction of the cost that would be incurred if all that data was stored on magnetic disks. For example, The Tape Storage Council notes that when using the latest LTO-7 format organizations can now store 240 Blu-ray quality movies on a single 6.0 TB native cartridge.

More Powerful Tape Drives

The LTO-7 specification effectively doubled the LTO-6 native tape cartridge capacity from 2.5 TB to 6.0 TB, yielding capacities of up to 15 TB per cartridge when compressed at a rate of 2.5 to 1. Large files will also transfer more quickly with 300 MB/sec native drive data transfer rates, which translates up to 2.7 terabytes of data an hour per drive at that same rate of compression. The standard reliability measure for storage devices, Bit Error Rate (BER) or bits read per hard error, has also been increased by two orders of magnitude to 1x1019 with LTO-7.

The LTO roadmap, which has been extended to include a LTO-10 format, calls for 48 TB native capacity. That equates to eight times more capacity, which is enough to hold as many as 1,920 Blu-ray movies per cartridge.

HIPAA Compliance and data protection

Trends creating more reliance on tape

Compliance requirements and the rise of Big Data analytics are the two primary trends driving increased reliance on tape drives in the cloud. More regulations than ever now require organizations to archive data, and many organizations have discovered that given the scale at which cloud service providers operate it’s much less expensive to archive that data in the cloud than it is to store it themselves.

The other significant issue is that many of organizations don’t know when that data may need to be accessed by advanced analytics applications. Many of these applications invoke so-called “Dark Data” that has been archived for years in order to inform one prediction or another. As such, organizations need to be able to randomly access that data in what is known as an active archive, which in turn is driving demand for faster data transfer rates.

The challenge for IT service providers

For both of these data protection scenarios, IT services providers should take note that tape technology that harkens back to the dawn of the age of computing is still 15 times less expensive from a total cost of ownership perspective than hard drives and generates 20 times less cost in terms of energy consumption.

As every cloud service provider knows, the difference between being profitable or not often comes down to simply knowing what data to store where based on how much it’s actually being used in any defined period of time. With that issue in mind, it looks like one day all the data in the cloud will still eventually wind up on a tape cartridge.

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Photo Credit: David Huang via Flickr.com. Used under CC 2.0 License.

Topics: Cloud Backup and Recovery

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