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Looking to the future with tape

Looking to the future with tape

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Tape storage is a type of large capacity data storage system which some consider the most suitable as data volumes are growing rapidly worldwide. Eric Bassier, Senior Director Product Marketing at Quantum, discusses the advantages of tape storage and explains why many enterprises and large cloud providers are turning to tape.

With its long history and proven track record, tape remains a valuable option for organisations building resilient storage infrastructure, particularly for long-term archives, cold storage and backup requirements.

It has thrived despite fairly regular predictions of its likely decline in favour of newer technologies. Back in 2004, for example, tech industry writers were asking, ‘Will tape survive in the long term?’ At the time, the view was positive: ‘Having answered many of the challenges it faced prior to 2000, the tape industry has successfully positioned itself for success in the foreseeable future’.

Fast forward nearly two decades and those prescient observations still hold true, with tape still widely used across a variety of important use cases. Global technology leaders, including the likes of IBM, HPE, Dell, Sony and Quantum are just a few of the companies that manufacture tape equipment and media. They work within a large and growing market which industry research predicts will reach US$9.42 billion in value by 2030.

Indeed, given issues such as the rise of ransomware and cybersecurity threats in general, organisations are also reprioritising tape, not least because having access to an archive copy of critical data on tape provides a secure location to recover from in the event of a security breach.

The advantages of tape storage

Tape as a storage option can provide a multitude of benefits including high capacity, more compact storage and long-term storage capability and life span of up to 30 years, which trumps disk’s deterioration after five. A single tape cartridge can store more than 60 years of video recording running 24×7 and it’s around three to four times cheaper to use than disk for long-term storage. Given this, tape is ideal for storing vast amounts of data at the lowest price point.

Many enterprises and large cloud providers are turning to tape because of its three biggest benefits: energy efficiency; cybersecurity; and long-term cost-effectiveness.

1. The energy efficiency of tape

Tape is a green storage solution, offering a way to greatly reduce power and cooling requirements because it doesn’t need to be powered-on during data storage in contrast to disk arrays. Tape cartridges sit idle in automated libraries, enabling them to consume no energy until they are accessed. Tape consumes about one-fifth the power and cooling of HDD technology, which saves significant costs for an organisation archiving data with a long-term focus. With eco initiatives now a key focus for businesses, a tape infrastructure strategy built with ‘going green’ in mind can help tackle the large environmental impact of data centres.

2. Tape is key for cyber-resilience

With data breaches and ransomware attacks becoming more common, tape has seen a resurgence in popularity. Tape is an air-gapped or ‘offline’ solution from the rest of the network and there have been more recent innovations in tape – like Scalar Ransom Block that automatically ejects the tape magazine so tapes cannot be picked by the robotic system until an operator physically re-inserts the magazine – that make tape an even more secure solution for ransomware recovery. This provides the strongest air-gap solution possible, making tape an ideal component of cyber-resilient infrastructure. And tape itself is very secure, with built-in encryption and additional security provided by the fact that it cannot be accessed offline by malware.

Keeping a backup copy of critical data on tape provides a secure recovery solution in the event of a ransomware attack, but it also protects in case of software bugs. In 2011, a flaw in a software update caused Google to accidentally delete the saved email messages in about 40,000 Gmail accounts. Thankfully, the data was also stored on tape and Google could salvage the lost data from that backup.

3. Tape is ideal for long-term archiving

Tape has become a key technology for long-term data archiving and cold data storage – this refers to inactive data that must be kept for years or even decades. For many organisations the majority of the data being generated will be this cold data set and tape is an ideal storage solution to help manage costs and preserve access to this valuable inactive data. It’s no wonder financial institutions and hyperscale cloud providers especially have come to rely on tape for high-volume, low-cost storage.

4. Tape innovation is ongoing

Innovation continues in tape storage technology. Aside from innovations to increase cyber-resiliency, as mentioned previously, there are other developments focused on optimising storage capabilities. For example, there are solutions now available in the market that enable any organisation generating petabytes of data to deploy cloud-based Amazon S3 Glacier Class storage within their own data centre, colocation facility, or hosted IT environment. This enables archiving cold inactive data at low-cost, with a reduction of as much as 80%, using any amount of HDD and tape storage, and all deployed as-a-Service for ease of deployment and usability.

The advantages of tape like low cost, cyber-resiliency and new capabilities and innovations, speak directly to the current data storage needs for businesses across all industries – whether earth sciences, media production, government, or technology. It’s a logical addition to a storage strategy for any organisation and those that may have underestimated the capabilities of tape will be scrambling to embrace it in 2022 and beyond.

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