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Spectra Logic Backup and Archive Blog

 

Is tape at its inflection point?

Is tape dead?
This question continues to spur conversations that won’t seem to die. The industry, and primarily the disk players, continue to look for tape’s signs of life or demise and yet the market it still a multi-billion-dollar business – with more relevance now than in the last decade— according to Enterprise Strategy Group’s Mark Peters.

Frankly, if you dedicate your business to delivering solutions that meet customer requirements for today and the distant future, there will be a market, and we are committed to being the best at tape libraries.

Backup has evolved.
So back to the “tape is dead” conversation. I agree with a comment that Jerome Wendt recently made in his post that stated tape is at an inflection point. I agree that the needs for tape have evolved much like the needs for disk and would like to elaborate on what we are seeing at Spectra Logic.

Disk-based backup has a significant role in IT. Labor can be saved, remote backups can be consolidated and user-initiated fast restores all produce economic benefits. However, in rare events, disk systems are subject to hardware failure, application failure, hash failures, undetected bit errors, operating system failure, fire, flood, accidental deletion, and even sabotage. I wrote something similar to this for Wikibon over a year ago (excerpt directly below), and the fact remains.

Why tape remains relevant and three future predictions
Last Update: Dec 31, 2008  Nathan Thompson

With an enormous amount of bad press surrounding tape (primarily submitted by disk-only vendors) it is interesting that customers continue to deploy it as a fail-safe “backstop.” I will expand on this point.
In its most severe form "loss of data" is equivalent to “loss of enterprise.” Given the dependency of organizations on IT and IT applications, the cost of downtime has grown to an average of $3M per hour (for Fortune 1000 companies). But what happens in the event of permanent data loss? It’s catastrophic - even potentially deadly when one considers the full impact on our information driven military, health care, energy and public services sectors.

Disk based backup has a significant role in IT. Labor can be saved, remote backups can be consolidated and user initiated fast restores all produce economic benefit. However, in rare events, disks systems are subject to hardware failure, application failure, hash failures, undetected bit errors, operating system failure, fire, flood, accidental deletion and even sabotage. Organizations will always depend on tape for a final backstop, guarding against the unthinkable—simply because the unthinkable is un-survivable.
From Spectra Logic’s perspective, we see tape as a growth market. There has been much market consolidation and many vendors have failed or are on the path to failure. Given our financial stability, and long term (non public, non-VC funded) orientation we have been able to invest and expand our market share for the last 29 years. Our customers continue to use tape. In all of our known cases, after an extensive process of technology investigation, none of our customers have migrated entirely away from tape storage.
From my perspective as CEO of a profitable and growing tape library company, I’m going to take this time to predict a few relevant trends in this industry:

  • First, LTO has become the dominant tape format. Over the last five years we have seen the demise or near demise of Mammoth, QIC, DLT, AIT, SAIT, Travan, 9940 and SDLT. I predict that we will view the near demise of T10000, 9840 and possibly DAT over the next three years. IBM’s 3592 (AKA TS11x0, which incidentally shares its underlying technology with LTO giving it the cost and quality benefits of high volume production) and LTO will carry on through 2020.

  • Second, there will only be three or four relevant library manufacturers in three years. The volume and price leader will be BDT, who will continue to sell its products through OEMs such as HP, Dell and Sun. The brand leader will be IBM, who will continue to take share and ultimately dominate mainframe attached tape. The technology leader is and will continue to be Spectra Logic - further adding to its intellectual property portfolio of library encryption, density, disk integration, Media Lifecycle Management, connectivity, reliability and ease of use. There may be a few companies servicing their installed base, but generally the supplier base will have shrunk to just a few leaders.

  • Third, in three years the industry pundits will continue to predict the “death of tape”, as they have for the last 46 years.

Action Item: Continue to use tape as a backstop against catastrophic data loss. But be careful in your vendor and media selection. Make sure that the standards you choose will be supported for years to come so that in the unlikely case you need to get to your data, you can.

Given the dependency of organizations on IT and IT applications, the cost of downtime has grown to an average of $3 million per hour (for Fortune 1000 companies). But what happens in the event of permanent data loss? Data loss is not only catastrophic to an organization and its customers; it can also plague a brand and company’s reputation forever. For example, what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say, “Danger Sidekick?” Which leads me to the question, “What is the cost of a bad reputation?” Simply put, loss of data is the loss of an organization.

Archive has evolved.
While tape continues to be used for backup, the areas where we are seeing a  meaningful increase in the use of tape are with long-term archive and data retention. Most archive needs are driven by regulation, compliance and company policies. When you are asked to keep information forever, or even for the life of a patient, will you trust hundreds of spinning disks to retain that data over the long term?  Tape has a reputation for its energy efficiency and lower power and cooling costs in comparison to the best on-line and off-line disk-based solutions. As a matter of fact, The Clipper Group found that disk systems cost 25 times more to power and cool than tape systems1.

Just the facts.

  • Tape is fast.  Really fast.
      • Throughput into a single tape system is much faster than that of any disk system on the market
      • High speed Spectra libraries: 67 GB/sec; High speed disk archives: typically top out around 10 GB/sec

 

  • Tape is as reliable as disk
      • LTO advances improved tape media reliability by more than 700%2
      • Spectra library advances provide proactive identification of media and hardware reaching usage thresholds.  Proactively replace tape and components before there is a failure.
  • Tape is more affordable than disk
      • The most space- and power-efficient data storage
      • Disk systems cost 25x more to power/cool than tape3

 

  • Spectra libraries are more efficient
      • Conserves space:  33 to 100 more tapes (26 – 80 more TB of uncompressed stored data) per square foot
      • Conserves power:  35-64% power savings

Not everyone who sells tape systems is focused on tape innovation, and some have hurt the business by taking their eye off the ball. But one thing is clear:  The conversation is far from over. We will continue to see consolidation and confusion brought on by way of mergers and acquisitions, and the industry pundits may continue to predict the “death of tape” as they have for the last 46 years. We look forward to the ride and you can count on Spectra to continue its focus on storage solutions that meet the backup and archive needs of medium and large enterprises.

1 Reine, David and Mike Kahn, “Disk and Tape Square Off Again”, The Clipper Group, Feb 2008

2 Beech, Debbie. “Best Practices for backup and long-term data retention” Sylvatica Whitepaper. The evolving role of disk and tape in the data center. June 2009 

3 The Clipper Group

 

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