“Tape is not dead”

Every now and then there have been rumors and statements that the tape technology is dead. However, all of them have been proven false – tape is still strong. For large data sets and long-term storage tape is still the most obvious choice for technology. Actually, almost all global large cloud service providers are using tape as the backbone of their huge data sets. You may always use your own judgement of the reliability of sources who have distributed the message that the tape is dead…

Primary usage of tape technology has shifted from the traditional backup to the last defense line of data protection and the most cost-efficient long term storage target. It is widely known that tape has the best TCO for large data sets, but many are surprised to see evidence of tape being the most reliable storage, for example against a silent corruption. Well planned tape backup solution also gives the best disaster recovery speed, e.g. tape technology is very fast when streaming large data sets.

Typical characteristics and benefits of the tape technology:

1) Cost efficiency

It is not only the acquiring costs (purchasing and maintenance) that make tape cost efficient but also the fact that the energy cost of tape platform is only some percentages compared with the classic disk storage environments. Clipper Group made a study of TCO costs between disk and tape over 9 year period. Energy costs only of a traditional disk system were three times higher than the total cost of the same capacity tape system. Total TCO of a traditional disk system was 26 times higher compared with a tape system during the 9 year period.

2) Tape is very ecological and green technology.

The lifecycle of a tape library is much longer than that of a traditional disk system. Due to a very low energy consumption, CO2 emissions of the tape systems are very low compared with similar disk based systems (based on the study, for 9 years of usage, disk system had 105 times more CO2 emissions!).

3) Future technological development looks very promising for tape.

There is still plenty of room to increase the density on tape while traditional disk systems are reaching the limits of the high density. Insic is forecasting that the native capacity of a single tape media will reach 128 TB (at present in year 2017 the capacity is 10-15 TB on one tape cartridge).

4) Tape is reliable.

NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Centre) has made a study of a silent data corruption/bit rot frequency on different storage technologies. Silent data corruption is about one hundred thousand (100 000) times more common on traditional disk systems than on tape media.

5) A golden rule for backup – follow the 3-2-1 practice.

Three copies of data, two different technologies/media and 1 copy offsite. Tape technology is perfect for the last defense line of backup data.

6) Tape has a long life cycle.

To keep the tape library system up to date with the latest technology is built in the architecture. Tape libraries can have over 20 years lifecycle since the next generation drives can be installed/upgraded as required. Also the existing media is typically write and read compatible from one to two generations backwards. The need for data migrations is easily over 10 years. While having the long term retention data on the “old” tapes, you can simultaneously have the new data written and read on the latest throughput and capacity drives in the same system.

The next generation enterprise class drives are also typically able to increase the capacity of the old media. Recently the Barium Ferrite material on media has replaced the metal particle based media. This is a significant improvement for the stability of magnetism on tape media surface. In other words – minimum magnetism level decrease for 30 years which is also a manufacturer guarantee for media life.

7) One of the most common misunderstandings is that the tape is slow.

It is true that the retrieval time for one file on tape will take a while, but when e.g. in restoring full environments, tape is very fast. One of the largest Finnish service providers is able to restore two times faster from tape than from their dedupe-based disk platform.

In practise:

With 10 modern tape drives it is possible to restore over 10 TB in an hour (and with compression even a 20-30 TB/h speed may be achieved). Linear scalability of tape architecture means that by doubling the number of drives, the performance will also be doubled. The only question is that do the network and other infrastructure (disks and servers) have the capacity to handle such a performance.

“Tape is not dead“

> Read PDF-brochure