Tape is Built for the Future

Daniel Jan


In part one of this two-part series on tape as a data storage solution, we touched upon the “zettabyte apocalypse.” And while most analysts predict an additional 40 to 60 zettabytes to the digital information burgeon over the coming four years, it left us thinking—what about the years after that? Will the amount of data continue to rapidly increase?  Or will growth eventually slow?

Well, if a new report from IDC is any indication, a growth of 40 to 60 zettabytes will be little more than drop in the proverbial bucket. Recently, they predicted the total amount of digital data created worldwide will approach 180 zettabytes by 2025.

So, how is an organization to prepare? Disk storage is no longer growing its capacity at a sufficient rate or with the affordability characteristics that will make it suitable for zettabyte storage, and, as of right now, that much of a capacity seems a stretch even for tape. Fortunately, though, planned innovations in tape storage can help organizations future-proof against the coming data boon.

Here’s how:

Lowering cost

Tape is the most cost-effective technology for long-term data retention. Capacity can scale without adding more drives, unlike HDDs, and some industry estimates place the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for tape about six times lower than equivalent HDDs systems.

To walk through the various ways tape proves to be one of the more cost-effective storage options on the market is a task far beyond the scope of this blog. Fortunately, this report by the Clipper Group offers an exhaustive breakdown of tape’s costs as compared to disk and cloud solutions.  It’s worth a read, but if you want to skip to the end, they conclude, “Tape library solutions still have a significant economic advantage over disk-based solutions on a cost per terabyte stored basis.”

Really, the bottom line is: As the amount of data an organization must store grows, tape gets cheaper and cheaper.

Using LTFS software

Linear Tape File System (LTFS) enables direct, intuitive and graphical access to data stored on LTO tapes, thereby eliminating the need for additional tape management and proprietary software to access data.

Introducing Active Archives

A combined solution of open systems software, disk and tape hardware, active archives give users an automated way to store and manage all data across multiple storage types (HDDs, tape, and cloud storage). It improves tape access time by serving as a cache buffer for a tape library, and enables a high percentage of accesses to the tape subsystem to be satisfied from HDDs, thereby avoiding physical tape access and making it well suited for higher-performance and large capacity and archive applications.

The emergence of tape as NAS  

Tape as NAS integrates an LTO tape library with a front-end NAS and LTFS to deliver a higher performance, scalable archive solution. A tape library as NAS enables users to leverage familiar file system tools, and even drag and drop files directly to and from a tape cartridge, just like a disk-based NAS.

Tiered Storage

Tiered storage uses standard HSM software functionality that enables the storage administrator to define policies for data migration and retention to control the movement of petabytes of data from more expensive HDD storage devices to less-expensive tape storage.

HPC Embracing HPSS and Tape

HPSS (High Performance Storage System) software is widely used in the HPC market providing highly flexible and scalable hierarchical storage management functionality that optimizes large-scale storage resources by keeping recently used data on disk and less recently used data on cost-effective tape. In addition, HPSS enables RAIT (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Tape) effectively multiplying the data rate and improving the availability of tape subsystems.

Tape for cloud

One large misconception is that by choosing tape, you must forgo cloud. But, in reality, they can be complimentary.  Using tape for cloud archives, rather than HDDs, greatly reduces cloud TCO. The role of tape in the cloud will continue to grow, as cloud providers seek to lower their storage costs and relieve pressure from exclusively using more costly HDDs for lower activity and archival data.

For more, “Why Tape Rules: Using Tape Backup in the Cloud” provides an excellent overview on how these technologies can work together.


Once feared dead, advancements in tape technology have made it a superior storage choice for organizations, both now and in the future. It has surpassed disk in key categories like capacity, reliability, and total cost of ownership, and has proven to work alongside cloud effectively. Most importantly, though, it’s what’s needed to survive the “zettabyte apocalypse.”

For more insights into current trends, usages and innovations within the tape storage industry, check out the State of Tape report from The Tape Storage Council.


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