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The once-thriving storage tape business has been knocked out of the running as the media of choice for backing up data, but it is expected to remain the primary technology for use in long-term data archiving for the future.
Disk-based arrays, optical drives and virtual tape libraries have pushed tape out of data centers and server closets as a way to do backups, and new cloud-based storage technologies are threatening to drive the final nails into the tape backup coffin.
Tape has received a bad reputation thanks to reliability issues, the impact on backup windows from slow read and write speeds, and stories about tapes getting lost. More importantly, with large backups, it is very difficult to do the kinds of tests that give customers peace of mind knowing that their data can be restored if needed.
However, when it comes to archiving data for years and decades, tape is not only maintaining its status as the storage medium of choice, it is actually seeing growth.
The main reason for this is the very low cost per GB of capacity of tape vs. that of disk and cloud storage. While disk-based storage is important for fast recovery of data, for mass quantities of data likely never to be accessed again, cost is a big factor.
Power consumption is also a factor for a similar reason because once data is written to tape, the tape will not consume power unless that data is restored or new data is written.
Furthermore, reliability is no longer an issue with tape thanks to new materials and recording technologies.
Long-term archiving and disaster recovery have become the focus of tape technology, said Michael Spindler, data protection practice manager at Datalink, a Chanhassen, Minn.-based solution provider.
Deduplication helps reduce the amount of data stored on disk or tape, Spindler said. “But for long-term requirements, you can still store data on tape at an order of magnitude cheaper than on disk,” he said.
For remote disaster recovery, customers are deduping data and then replicating it to the disaster recovery site, Spindler said. “It used to be that only telecom customers did that because they were the only ones with the bandwidth,” he said.
Virtual tape libraries, which are disk-based arrays configured specifically to emulate tape libraries, are good for fast backups and restores, said Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner at Consiliant Technologies, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider.
“But many customers want their data on tape somewhere to keep it safe,” he said. “They may replicate the data from one data center to another with tape using dedupe to increase performance.”
The tape library business is also getting a boost from customers looking to consolidate multiple smaller libraries into larger ones, Kadlec said.
“We have customers with older libraries look at the maintenance costs and think, ‘Oh my God,’” he said. “We’re seeing customers get a new library with three-year maintenance contracts for little more than the cost of one year of maintenance for an existing library.”
The tape business has fallen off drastically except for large archives, such as medical records, where tape is mandated by government regulations, said Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime, a Tulsa, Okla.-based solution provider.
“I don’t think anybody would say they’re happy with tape,” Strasheim said. “It’s like an accounting system: You just have it. The business is mainly driven by inertia. We don’t get some young buck opening a company and saying, ‘We’ve got the fax machine and the phone system, now where’s the tape library?’”
Vendors are also seeing the move to larger tape libraries, although they indicate that autoloaders, which have a single tape drive and multiple slots, are making a minor comeback.
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