Tape Isn’t Dead. To the Contrary, It’s Innovating.

Data Center Maintenance

Paul Mercina October 17, 2019

The truth is, tape has never gone away. Not only that, it’s been quietly improving while we’ve all been reading up on BaaS (backup-as-a-service).

“Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.”

This quote from computer scientist Andrew Tanenbaum regained currency with the first-ever picture of a black hole. The 5 petabytes that made that photo possible weren’t sent by tape in station wagon but rather on hard drives via FedEx, with a resulting transmission speed of about 14 gigabytes per second.

We’ve used this example in various venues to demonstrate the importance of evaluating available technologies—including sometimes out-of-favor legacy options—based on business needs and the particular application. This may seem like basic advice—and it absolutely is—but we know how easy it is to get caught up in the excitement when the tech bandwagons take off full speed toward the latest innovation.

We’re seeing this right now with cloud-based backup solutions and even flash storage. To be clear, these options definitely have their place, and many times they are the best, if not the only, way to get the job done. But like any technology, they have downsides. For example, many enterprises find that supporting the network demands and paying the subscription-based pricing for cloud backups winds up being more expensive and frustrating over the long run than, say, an on-site LT0-8 silo.

Yes, we said it—tape to the rescue!

And what’s not to love about tape? Okay, data-access times aren’t up to the demands of every application, so use flash and other solutions then. But for archiving and some backup scenarios, tape is tough to beat. Once an organization has invested in the hardware itself, tape is inexpensive and offers low-cost, long-term storage that isn’t constantly sucking power through an electric cord. What’s more, in light of recent ransomware onslaughts, some organizations are reexamining the value of tapes’ inherent “air gap” in protecting against cyberattack.

The truth is, tape has never gone away. Not only that, it’s been quietly improving while we’ve all been reading up on BaaS (backup-as-a-service). Today, the industry is looking at holding hundreds of terabytes of data on a kilometer of tape and they’re not even approaching physical scaling limits, as hard drives most definitely are. Tape also takes up less room and costs about one-sixth as much as equivalent solid-state drives, and error rates are four to five orders of magnitude less than for hard drives.

Using tape even means keeping up with the Joneses, or the FAANGs. If Google preserves Gmail on tape and Microsoft likes IBM libraries for Azure, the sysadmin who recommends such a solution in the right situation will find herself in good company.

All of this to say, the right archival storage and backup system may be the one you already have in place. When paired with high-quality storage support and maintenance from a reputable provider, these systems can outlive their OEMs’ end-of-support-life and provide incredibly affordable, reliable data storage and backup to complement the other, flashier arrays you deploy.

About the Author

Paul Mercina, Director, Product Management Marketing
Paul Mercina brings over 20 years of experience in IT center project management to Park Place Technologies, where he oversees the product roadmap, growing the services portfolio, end-to-end development and release of new services to the market. His work is informed by 10+ years at Diebold Nixdorf, where he worked closely with software development teams to introduce new service design, supporting implementation of direct operations in a number of countries across the Americas, Asia and Europe.