George Crump, Senior Analyst

Tape’s innovators will be gathering in Las Vegas in April at the first Tape Summit where they’ll work with analysts and the press to discuss tape’s current role in the market and what’s needed to expand that role. This event will include suppliers like Spectra Logic, HP, IBM, Crossroads, Tributary Systems, Dell, Gresham Storage and Atempo, plus the Active Archive Alliance and the LTO Consortium. Innovation in tape is the key to ensuring that this storage option for IT continues to increase in value over the next decade. Interestingly, there are noticeable attendees missing from the Tape Summit (Oracle, Overland Storage and Quantum). One has to wonder if they’re really committed to innovating tape or if they’re just milking it while they promote a disk-only strategy?

Innovation to Solidify Tape’s Traditional Use

Tape’s traditional market has primarily been as a tier within a backup strategy or a tier within an archive strategy. And there have been concerns around using tape media in both of those use cases. The first concern is confidence, specifically whether a tape can be read after sitting on a shelf, either inside the library or out, for the last 3-5 years. Disk, for both backup and archive, is often deemed more reliable because it is typically online and can constantly scan itself to make sure that data is still readable. As we discussed in a recent briefing note, some vendors like Spectra Logic are now delivering tape data verification techniques that allow the integrity of tape media to be confirmed and re-confirmed throughout that media’s life.

The second concern when using tape for these long term storage missions is how a cartridge will be read 5-10 years down the road, if the tape backup or archive software has changed or the people that ran the software internally have left the company. Initiatives like the Active Archive Alliance have stepped in to alleviate this concern. Through the use of an innovative software abstraction layer, tape and disk are integrated into a file system, something that’s essential for long term retention strategies. Now you no longer need specific archiving software to access archived data, simply access it as you would any other file system.

Another innovation is speed and density. The latest LTO 5 format now has a native data transfer rate of 140 MB/s second. If you factor in compression, that means a transfer rate of up to 1TB per hour per LTO drive. LTO 5 can also store 1.5TB native (3.0 TB compressed) capacity per tape. What this means is that tape streaming performance is there, you just need the right technology to drive those speeds.

With concerns like these being addressed, plus tape’s legacy of affordability, transportability, density and power efficiency, it continues to strengthen its role in the long-term storage of archive and backup data. In fact tape’s greatest strengths around power and density have become even more critical in the modern data center. A viable, innovative tape option is also good for IT professionals. It gives you an alternative to a disk-only strategy, a way to not only keep costs in check but to also have the comfort of knowing data is available on an alternate form of media.

Innovation to Expanding Tape’s Role

Innovations in the tape market are not only going to help solidify tape’s role in the archive and backup space but we think they will expand the use case for tape to a more active role. Maybe Active Archive should evolve into Passive Primary, a future where tape and primary storage are integrated from the start and data is automatically pushed and pulled from tape as needed. For this to become reality the software suppliers in the Active Archive Alliance need to continue to improve their file systems so they’re suitable for real-time production use and tape vendors need to innovate to continue decreasing tape access and data retrieval times. If we can make a case that cloud storage and primary storage should be integrated we can certainly make a case that primary storage and tape storage should be integrated.

The innovators, the companies that really understand tape’s role in the modern data center, are gathering at the Tape Summit during NAB in Las Vegas to update analysts and the press on where tape is now and what’s coming in the future. At the show the community will discuss how tape will continue to strengthen its current role in the enterprise and how its role can be expanded to help IT professionals drive down costs and increase retention.

Spectra Logic is a client of Storage Switzerland