(With apologies to Mark Twain)
The release of LTO5 by Quantum Corporation brings 1.5TB native/3TB compressed tape to the market, and it is a sure fire bet that IBM and HP will shortly follow with their own offerings, which means that for the past 20 years or so, a technology many said was going the way of the Dodo, has managed to more than keep pace with competing technologies, and seen quite a few off (remember how optical disk was the future of storage back in the late 1980′s?).
So why is tape still with us? In our opinion the answer is that it is just so much more suitable for long term data retention than any competing data storage medium. Disk based backup systems will often win out in terms of ease of backup and speed of restore, but would you trust one to keep your archive safe for many years? Could you afford the electricity bill as the disk based archive grew to mammoth proportions? If what you need is a durable, time served technology that allows large volumes of data to be stored at a relatively low cost of ownership, with options for Write-Once security and easy to use secure data encryption, tape still provides the answer. Certainly operations such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider rely on tape archives for data storage, and in the financial services sector tape is widely viewed as the leading medium for long term archiving with LTO leading the way.
In our tape data recovery lab we still do receive LTO tapes, but more often than not the problem is one one human error rather than any mechanical failure, the technology is, we believe, very sound.
What about the future? Well it is worth having a look at this article on IBM’s web site. The technology is with us today that could lead to tape capacities up in 35TB native level. This is not to say that hard disks won’t see equally impressive increases in capacity and performance, nor that solid state storage will not improve in terms of longevity and cost, but it is clear that tape still has a future mapped out, is still a valuable part of any serious storage infrastructure and has the big guns of the storage industry firmly behind it.