Tape Storage: It’s Still Here, and It’s Better Than Ever

Once dismissed as legacy technology, magnetic tape storage solutions are experiencing a resurgence. According to TechTarget, shipments of tape drives and tape libraries increased by more than 10% in 2021, year over year. 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. Tape storage is low-priced, sustainable, and almost entirely immune to ransomware and other cyberattack. Recent advances in technology have pushed capacity, delivering up to 45 TB (compressed) of storage now — with leaders predicting tapes will be able to store nearly 1.5 petabytes of data within the next decade.

In an era of ransomware attacks and the rising expectations that companies will store certain types of data forever, many information managers are taking another look at the benefits of tape storage and rotation.

Create an Air Gap Between Your Data and Hackers

In 2023 alone, organizations including Porsche, the city of Oakland, Reddit, and Estee Lauder were among the known victims in a growing number of cyber attacks. Reporting from Wired estimates that a total of nearly $900 million could be paid to ransomware groups by the end of the year.

Companies of all sizes are confronting the risk of valuable information being accessed by hackers or ransomware. One bad actor can hold hostage – or even delete — essential files, leaving businesses vulnerable to lost records, lost revenue, and a damaged reputation.

According to the Active Archive Alliance, this growing risk is precisely why tape storage is experiencing a resurgence. In their 2022 annual report, the organization describes how tape provides an “air gap” — keeping a copy of your sensitive data offline, disconnected, and inaccessible from the internet — that is “impregnable to ransomware and other cyberattacks”.

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.

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. But if you’re just starting to see this tried-and-true technology as a must-have, your best bet 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.

Innovation Drives More Storage at a Lower Cost

In addition to protection from cyberattacks, IT managers are looking at tape storage in a new light as innovation drives its capacity for storage. As Paul Kirvan writes for TechTarget, “the future is bright,” according to the industry’s LTO roadmap, with projected capacities of nearly 1.5 petabytes (compressed) and new LTFS high-speed retrieval capabilities. TechRadar confirms that while hard disk drive (HDD) innovation has stalled, tape capacity continues to essentially double every generation.

This increasing capacity is key, as companies continue to securely store increasing amounts of data due to evolving best practices and regulatory requirements. Drew Robb at CIO Insight reports that in the “zettabyte era” of data storage — with 11.7 ZB of data stored in organizational systems by 2025 — tape will be an essential component of modern data storage. And hyperscale cloud providers like AWS are no exception, with Robb claiming that “it’s one of the worst-kept industry secrets that they use a LOT of tape”.

That’s because tape is one of the lowest-cost options for data storage at scale. According to the Active Archive Alliance, most data growth occurs through unstructured data like video, audio, images, and presentations that are extremely unlikely to be accessed after 100 days of creation. To support storage of this inactive data, a low-cost solution is essential.

The alliance estimates that tape in large systems will cost less than $.06 per gigabyte nearline and below $.03 per gigabyte for offline or cold storage. That’s cheap — and an affordable way for organizations to stay in compliance and secure valuable data for the long-term.

The Most Sustainable Data Storage Option

Tape storage is also the greenest of your data storage options. According to Stephanie Safdie at Greenly, data storage centers — where all that magical “cloud data” is actually kept — are responsible for 2-3% of all global carbon emissions. Already, data storage has surpassed the commercial airline industry in terms of carbon emissions. As data storage continues to grow, so will its carbon footprint.

Unlike most cloud storage, since magnetic tapes are “unplugged”, they spend most of their lives consuming zero energy. And they last longer, with an estimated lifespan of more than 30 years compared to HDDs’ five years. Ultimately, tape media generates just 3 percent of the carbon dioxide that disks do — prompting Velvet Wu at IEEE Spectrum to dub tape storage “computing’s climate savior”.

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