Tapes are NOT dead

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Its 2020 and tapes are still selling like they were in 2003 when we first started our company. The only thing that has actually changed is that we are not selling so many formats. From selling more than 10 formats( DDS, DLT/SDLT, SLR,QIC,8mm, AIT to name a few) everything has converged to LTO Ultrium, IBM 3592 RDX. Capacities have come a long way too, with the largest capacity today standing at 15TB native ( IBM JD) and 12TB native ( LTO-8) .

Despite the talks each year of Tapes being Dead, the tapes are still thriving in the corporate environment as the most preferred long term archival option for cold data. All the good backup solutions today are designed around 'Disk to Disk to Tape' . Take any large cloud service provider, and you will see the last layer of backup on Tape - same goes true for large corporations too. Discussions essentially have moved away from "Tape or Disk" to "Disk AND tape" !

In short, tapes rather than going obsolete have started to live alongside disk based solutions. So what is it that keeps tape media going, there are 3 major areas where nothing beats good old tapes. These areas are

1. Tapes are most Cost Effective.

For A Tape media, cost per TB can be 5 times lower compared to a SATA Enterprise Grade hard drive.

Consider retail price of LTO-7 Type M 9TB Native - AED 260/US$ 70. Cost per TB for this media is AED 29 ( US$ 7.90). In contrast a 10 TB SATA Enterprise Hard drive is AED 1,300/ US$ 350 . Cost per TB for this HDD is AED 130/ US$ 35.

This is off course without taking into consideration the infrastructure cost ( tape drive or a NAS/SAN ) to keep things simple, but you get the ideal. Tapes offer a price advantage that no other technology does.

2. Removing, Handling and Shipping a tape offsite is easy

Nothing beats a tape in ease of handling when you need to ship it offsite. Keeping a copy offline and offsite has a big advantage -it is a piece of data written in stone. No virus, malware, intentional/unintentional deletion of data can take place on your offsite media, till its put in a tape drive. In contrast your always online disk backup system is l prone to virus, ransomware and overwrites, as long as it is online ( snapshots and versioning try to mitigate this risk but cyber security is a changing landscape and new threats may emerge ).

The Tape media further is rugged, easy to handle and easy to store. It offers an ease of offline storage that no other media offers .

3. Tape Media is the most reliable media to store your data, with one of the lowest rate of unrecoverable bit error.

Every storage medium has something called Hard error rate/unrecoverable bit error rate. This is the probability of not being able to read 1 bit of data correctly. A more reliable technology will have a lower error rate. Tapes have the lowest error rate compared to SATA and SAS Enterprise drives.

  • SATA Enterprise drives have hard error rate of 10^15 = one error per 125TB
  • SAS Enterprise Drives have hard error rates of 10^17 = one error per 12500TB ( 100 times more reliable than SATA Enterprise drives)
  • LTO Tape drives have hard error rates of 10^19 = one error per 1250000TB ( 100 times more reliable than SAS, 10000 time more reliable than SATA drives)

Tape drives write your data most reliably. Though with Disk based Solutions you have RAID which mitigates the problem to an extend, as your data grows the probability of hard error increases. The worst time to have a hard error is while raid rebuilding where data can be lost with hard drives.

4. Shelf Life of Tape media is very long, very very long

Finally, the published shelf life of the tape media is very long - 30 years, compare this with the shelf life of Hard drive ( 5-7 years ) and you know which one is better at holding your data for long term. Tapes are designed for long term archival.

Our take on tapes is that they will still go very strong in 2020, specially now that LTO-8 patent dispute is resolved and supply is restored. LTO indisputably is going to keep ruling the Tape world.

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