Tape Storage: It’s still here, and it’s better than ever

Experts keep ringing the death bell for tape storage. But this simple, inexpensive and dependable storage solution refuses to die. Some experts are even saying tape storage is more valuable now than ever.

This tried-and-true technology can solve many of your most modern information management problems. It is low-priced, environmentally friendly and almost entirely immune to cyberattack. Recent advances in technology have pushed raw storage capacity to 15TB, and that could soar as high as 200TB in years to come.

In an era of ransomware attacks and the rising expectation that companies will store information forever, many information managers are taking another look at the benefits of tape.

Protect your data from hackers

Tens of thousands of computers worldwide were infected during the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017. This attack brought some of the world’s biggest corporate giants to their knees, and indeed drove people to tears. In addition to the threat of cyberattack, stories of foreign digital espionage are in the news every day. “I can see one big winner from all these articles and stories,” Veteran IT backup pro Hal Yaman said in a recent blog post. “Backup to tape.”

Disk backup is fast but it’s typically online, Yaman said, leaving it vulnerable to malware. Once you’ve backed up to tape, however, you usually disconnect it and store it in a safe place. “This breaks the connection to the digital world, and so also from the hostile aspects of it,” Yaman said.

Even the most intrepid hacker can’t get data that isn’t connected to the internet. It’s the perfect solution for information managers who are concerned about keeping data safe.

More data storage space, smarter tech.

Techrepublic writer Evan Koblentz reports that while tape revenue has dropped, the technology itself has improved dramatically. In Spring 2017 IBM introduced a TS1155 tape drive with 15TB raw capacity, quoting 3:1 compression rates that will give you 45TB of compressed capacity. Meanwhile, both Sony and IBM have trumpeted experiments that could drive tape capacity to a jaw-dropping 200TB. Plus, tape libraries now perform cyclical redundancy tests and check tape readability, sending out an alert when a tape fails. This allows problems information managers to fix problems before failures occur.

Koblentz suggests that these technological advances might mean tape storage outlives disk. “Data centers of the future could have solid-state storage up front and reeled magnetic tape behind,” he writes, “all wrapped in a cloud.”

Low-priced and Green

The Active Archive Alliance predicts tape use will grow as part of tiered storage workflows. Not just because tape is reliable, but because tape storage costs are lower than ever. The trade association estimates that “tape in large systems will cross below $.06 per gigabyte nearline, and below $.03 per gigabyte for offline or cold storage.” That’s cheap.

Tape storage is also the greenest of your data storage options. The Tape Storage Council reports that in 2016, data centers consumed as much energy as the entire country of Spain. “Tape cartridges spend most of their life in a library slot or on a shelf and consume no energy when not mounted in a tape drive,” the council says. “Energy costs for tape capacity are typically less than five percent of the equivalent amount of disk capacity.” That’s green.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, it seems that the rumors of tape’s death may have been greatly exaggerated. Again.

Should you be backing up to tape?

If you’re an information manager and you’re already using tape storage, you’re ahead of the curve. The best way to implement this tried-and-true technology is to work with a trusted information management company that offers custom offsite tape storage and rotation with fireproof, climate-controlled vaults,  regular inventory audits and GPS tracked fleet vehicles.

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