Originating Author: G Berton Latamore
Moderator: Peter Burris
Analyst: David Floyer
Twenty years of talking about the demise of tape becomes a habit, yet large- and medium-sized organizations find tape to be a viable technology option for many data management challenges. For organizations that need very fast recovery, tape remains a key technology that is unlikely to go away soon. The promise that bandwidth would replace trucks for moving large amounts of data has not come true because the amount of growth in the data that needs to be backed up exceeds the rate of growth of bandwidth, and will continue to for the foreseeable future. This gives tape a financial advantage over disk as an off-site backup technology that is compounded by the lower energy cost of tape versus disk over the lifetime of the stored data. Tape also has a much longer storage life than disk, eliminating the need to move data to new media during its lifetime. Organizations that need a cheap copy of data in a “write once/read rarely” mode also are attracted by tape economics that show a 3X to 100X price advantage over disk technologies as a viable approach of sustaining their data.
One primary reason that tape continues to be viable is that since the mid-1990s the tape industry has delivered media exceeding the capacity of the largest disk. That changed the dynamic associated with backing up volumes (one tape could backup multiple disks rather than the reverse). Consequently tape’s advantages in terms of remote storage, price and its association with legacy applications that are designed to use it rather than disk for managing archiving, continue to exceed the issues of finding specific files, physically moving and securing tapes, and the performance limits associated with serial access.
In the last few years we have started seeing some vendors push hard to advance truly integrated tape and disk library technology (as opposed to pure disk “virtual tape” solutions) outside the mainframe world to minimize tape’s issues while maximizing its advantages by delivering automated 90/90 solutions (90 days on disk/90 years on tape). These products show such significant promise for optimizing the cost/benefit ratio for long-term storage administration, making the biggest question in tape’s future not its viability but whether the tape vendors will step up to drive technology forward.
It is clear that the application needs for tape are in place. What is less clear is whether storage suppliers will continue to be seduced by “disk only” product lines that are easier to market but don’t necessarily solve the core problems of backup, restore and solid data movement and administration.
Action Item: The practices and architectures associated with tape are becoming issues in today’s market. Users should continue to focus attention on data classification, deduplication and other architectural practices associated with backup and archive. They should also push vendors to find ways to deliver high-quality tape solutions that meet the real business needs of storage administration and data archiving.