Pondering the future of tape…

The other day I was asked to comment on a few question with regard to the future of tape technology.  I thought the questions were good one so I though I would post my unedited responses.

Question:

Many analysts and storage observers have said that tape is becoming obsolete, yet I have spoken to Sun Microsystems and IBM and they both say that using tape for storage is fundamental to their business strategy and that they are experiencing growth in this area.

What are your thoughts about tape?s evolving role in storage and do you think for the longer term tape will survive and still be relevant to storage over the next year, five years or even a decade. What trends are you seeing in tape?s use?

Response:

First thought is 5 or 10 years is a lifetime in technology. While today I believe tape is still and integral part of most IT infrastructures the management, consumables and vaulting costs are prompting many organizations to investigate technologies with the hope of reducing their dependency on traditional tape technology and improving SLAs. Technologies such as virtual tape, data de-duplication and emerging technologies such as removable disk cartridges (e.g. – http://www.prostorsystems.com/products.php) and holographic storage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holographic_storage) will change the way we approach backup and recovery.

Obviously IBM and Sun Microsystems (post STK acquisition) have thriving tape businesses that are fundamental to their business model and I would expect them to continue promote and evangelize the value of tape. As a technologist I think that it would be na?ve to assume that in the next 5 to 10 years there will not be game changing technologies that arise that will affect the need for traditional tape.

Question:

Do you use tape for storage? If so can you describe the response customers are giving you to its use? Is your business growing in this area, or is it dwindling?

Response:

Me do use a fair amount of tape but the amount of tape technology is declining due to the deployment of alternative technologies such as Snapshots, Virtual Tape, Content Addressable Storage, data de-duplication and enterprise wide archiving strategies. Our backup and recovery business is growing but the platform is no longer tape only.

Question:

What are the virtues of using tape? I understand that the popularity of virtual tape libraries are on the rise, but in general is tape a better form of storage that disk? What are tape?s advantages and what are the disadvantages?

Response:

This is like debating religion. Obviously today the biggest benefits of tape are portability, density and cost. The biggest drawback is management. Format incompatibility, possible reliability issues for long term retention, vaulting costs, the debate of iron vs. speed, etc?.

Question:

If you have any other thoughts on the use of Tape that my questions don?t address, (such as cost) etc., please feel free to give me your insights.

Response:

Often an overlooked component of tape infrastructure is the vaulting cost. The use of a solid archiving strategy and the use of emerging technologies such as data de-duplication will not only simplify management and improve SLAs but can also reduce Op-Ex dramatically.

Lastly I believe that there are some compelling events that prompt us to investigate technologies that augment the use of tape. These technologies will absolutely erode some of the tape market share. The cheese will move over the next 5 to 10 years, maybe the tape vendors will move it or maybe it will be a new innovator, the market players will react and those who do not will loose market share and may potentially fizzle out.

For more detail on the effects of archiving on the use of backup and recovery see: http://gotitsolutions.org//2006/08/22/the-simple-value-of-archiving.html

1 thought on “Pondering the future of tape…

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