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What’s the world’s best kept $1 billion secret? (Hint: think tape storage)

Without question, the tape market is thriving and ready to play a key role in storage amid the shifts to hybrid cloud and new service consumption models. Discover more about the value of tape.

Value of Tape 400 x 267.pngImagine just for a second you found a billion dollars that nobody owned. What would you do?

I think most people would take it. Or at least as much as they could carry!

Now I admit the chances of literally finding a billion dollars just lying around are pretty small. But that doesn’t mean that other, more realistic, opportunities don’t exist.

Like tape storage for example. All combined, with hardware, media and services, the global tape market exceeds a billion dollars in value. That makes it a great opportunity for distributors and resellers to sell extra hardware and supplies to customers who are undoubtedly looking to buy tape storage.

And it means those end users can buy open standard tape solutions knowing they'll be supported by some of the biggest IT companies in the world, including HPE.

Space. The final (storage) frontier

The reason for this is clear in this video. People say tape is making a comeback but in all honesty, it never went away. Over the last five years, data from the industry clearly shows that demand for tape capacity, expressed in terms of new cartridge shipments, is increasing.

Put simply, the world is buying more tape than ever. Because, here’s the thing. Data isn’t gas! It takes up space.

Regardless of platform, it has to be stored on something. The cloud isn't a cloud. It's a lot of hardware joined together by wires and controlled by software. It's very clever technology. But it's still physical. It still has presence.

And it's that presence that creates a set of practical challenges for today's storage technologies.

Flash is high performance data protection. It does things that tape devices weren’t designed for. But it isn’t economical or durable enough for large scale archiving spanning decades.

And hard disks are approaching the superparamagnetic limit of how small you can make the magnetic particles coating the disk.


According to INSIC projections, by 2025 we may see 40TB HDDs, which is only a 15% CAGR in areal density from today’s products.

However "limitless" the cloud may appear, any cloud-based storage system will inevitably have to confront the reality that scaling pools of hard drives in the zettabyte era will need colossal quantities of devices, energy, floorspace and resource. And none of those things come without strings attached. The world's data centres already use more power than Spain.

On the other hand, tape still has plenty of headroom. LTO 12 is targeting 480 TB per cartridge in the same time frame. That’s around 33% CAGR in areal density about double the projection for disk drives.

It's important to realise that every disk-based array or object storage server will be governed by the superparamagnetic limit. So for storing trillions of gigabytes of unstructured data in the very near future, tape is the ideal, cost effective long term solution.

It has the support of leading vendors, it requires almost no energy at rest, it has a reliable roadmap and it’s already being used by millions of businesses.

Avoiding cloud turbulence

All of us have flown through clouds in an aeroplane. And one thing we all know is that although they seem light and fluffy, it can be a little bumpy up there.

Cloud storage looks cheap but it's important to factor in the inevitable retrieval charges into your TCO calculations. In years to come petabyte archives will not be uncommon. Retrieving just a small percentage of multi-petabyte data from a cloud archive could be very prohibitively expensive based on current pricing trends.

A very recent analysis from the analysts, ESG, calculated that over a ten year period, users can expect to see 66% lower TCO using LTO-8 compared to a cloud-base archive, taking into account a comprehensive analysis of all the cost variables.

Please understand, I’m not saying “don’t use the cloud” or that “cloud has no place.” What I am saying is analyse your storage requirements and use the right tier for the right purpose.

By all means put backups in the cloud using a combination like HPE StoreOnce and CloudBank. It makes perfect sense to increase your RPO by using the cloud to store secondary copies of critical data that might be needed for relatively near term data protection purposes. But once you are trying to manage petabytes of infrequently accessed, but essential, unstructured data in a timeframe spanning years and decades, it makes more sense to offload the majority to tape and process only what you need using a faster or more accessible tier. Cloud and tape can co-exist and should be a key part of your retention plans. But nothing, yet “out-tapes” tape.

The more IT changes, the more tape stays the same

Finally, I read a lot about “multi-cloud management” these days, which to me just sounds like traditional data centre silos. Only now, instead of it all being a collection of silos inside your organisation, and still reasonably within your control, it’s being managed by lots of different third parties on equipment you don’t own and in someone else’s data centre. Time will tell but I am not sure how this is going to be easier or less complex when it comes to long term archiving.

That fragmentation brings me on to my final point:cyber security. A ransomware attack is now a question of "if" not "when" it strikes your organisation. By utilising tape, you can create an air gap to ensure you have a clean copy of your data. Malware can’t infect data it cannot access.

As hackers become more sophisticated, they are going after backup data held at rest, including in the cloud because obviously they want to stop companies from having an escape route. Tape really is a last line of defence. It's not 100% foolproof (nothing is) but an AES-256 encrypted LTO cartridge in a disused bunker is a lot more secure than an S3 bucket accidentally set to be public. Or a critical database that is being erased by a disgruntled employee. Or a payment system that has been corrupted by hackers.

And by having the majority of your infrequently accessed—but essential—data offline and in one safe and secure place, you aren’t having to deal with all the cloud vendor management complexity, SLAs or additional charges if. . . no, when. . . you need to recover that data.

In the end, guardians of data are in the peace-of-mind, sleeping-soundly-at-night business. And that’s why I believe tape storage will continue to have a key role to play in the years ahead, even as we shift to a hybrid cloud and everything-as-a-service consumption model.

The more IT changes, the more tape stays the same. And that is no bad thing.

Andrew Dodd_HPE.jpegMeet Around the Storage Block blogger Andrew Dodd, HPE Storage Media.





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