Tape Isn’t Dead Yet

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The Three Main Reasons Tape Storage Will Never Die

No one is arguing the fact that disk storage has multiple advantages for backing up data. However, in spite of these advantages, the number of orders for tape storage continue to grow. Simply put, for some data storage needs tape is still the best solution.

In 2017 alone, an excess of 1 million petabytes in LTO tape was shipped. That is five times the amount that was shipped in 2008.

What other storage medium do you know that has increased 5 times in shipping capacity in less than a decade?

Simultaneously, a tapeless backup and recovery system has become the standard with most data storage engineers.

So how could tape storage possibly be growing in production and shipments? The answer might surprise you.

Tape storage is the budget friendly solution

The one thing that tape allows its user to do that no other storage medium does is separation. It sounds silly but it’s true.

Tape allows users to separate the storage medium from its recording device. This feature gives users the option to purchase several tape drives and unlimited amounts of tapes.

Even better is the fact that all of the tapes being used do not require and energy or power source to cool and maintain data.

If you really think about it, even if disk storage was free it would still cost more than tape due to the power and cooling requirements alone.

The reality that tape storage is less expensive than the other data storage alternatives is the key reason tape will never cease to exist.

Tape is the superior data writing solution

The process of writing data contains to storage contains something called unrecoverable bit error.

Basically, the unrecoverable bit error is the manner in which a device stores a one instead of a zero or vice versa and it isn’t fixed with error correction.

What many fail to realize is that tape has a better bit error rate than any other recording medium that currently exists today.

For instance, an LTO-7 tape, LTO-8 tape, and an Oracle T10000 tape drives all have unrecoverable bit error rates of 1:1019. This amounts to approximately one error every 1.25 exabyte.

Comparatively speaking, enterprise class disk storage drives have an unrecoverable bit error rate of 1:1015, or an error every 125 TB.

In essence what we’re saying is that tape is 1000 times better at writing ones and zeros than the best disk drive. Tape drives are also 10 times better than SSDs at writing data.

Tape has higher blocking energy

It goes without saying that the most underappreciated benefit of tape storage is its ability to store data long term. 

Tape is actually magnificent ate storing data compared to its storage counterparts, thanks to basic physics.

How tape works is with magnetic polarity. However, all magnetic bits are prone to loss of magnetic strength over time.

The only unknown factor is how long can the strength hold up? Data storage engineers often refer to a term called “blocking energy”.

Blocking energy stops a magnetic bit from changing position over long periods of time. The two main factors that directly effect the blocking energy are the volume of the magnetic bit and the temperature at which it exists.

The larger the magnetic bit and the lower the temperature, the better the blocking energy.

Tape drives have exceptionally large magnetic particles that are stored at ambient temperatures, as opposed to disk storage which has smaller magnetic particles stored at varying warm temperatures. 

This difference is what results in tape storage having a vastly higher blocking energy than disk drives, and can hold onto data for much longer periods of time.

Typically, the rule of thumb is that any individual piece of data should not be stored on a disk drive for more than five years. On the other hand, the same data file can be stored on tape for up to 30 years.

Why tape isn’t dead yet.

So, if tapes sales continue to be on the rise, but it’s not being used as a primary backup solution, where is it all going?

Secondary back up storage. Tape storage is continually being used as a back up solution for data that required long storage periods at low cost.

A great example is entertainment companies such as Paramount and Universal as well as biotech companies like Pfizer and Gilead Sciences that buy massive tape libraries and fill them with countless amounts of tape.

They see the benefit of tape in that they can store large files without time sensitivity issues.

tapes not dead

Surprisingly enough, cloud storage vendors are using tape storage for similar purposes. Does it make sense now that access times for the inexpensive storage services take longer than usual?

Some cloud vendors use tape storage in the back end to deliver reliable long-term storage of rarely accessed data. What many consider to be the future of data storage is really constructed of what many consider archaic data storage.

Are you still wondering why tape isn’t dead yet?


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