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With Tape, Think Resurgence, Not Requiem

by on June 2, 2011

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the death of tape. That hoary assertion is not just greatly exaggerated, it’s dead wrong.

Doubting Thomases need look no further for proof than Tape Summit 2011, an event I discussed in this space recently. Tape Summit 2011 was not a wake, but rather the first annual gathering of vendors and analysts to discuss the current state (healthy) and future state (bright) of the tape market. Here are some takeaways from the Summit that underscore the overall Summit theme of tape’s convincing resurgence—renaissance, even.

  •  2010 milestones.  Molly Rector of Spectra Logic discussed three milestones that occurred last year and point to tape’s endurance as a data center mainstay:
    • The LTO consortium developed a roadmap that, if executed, will enable LTO to keep well ahead of data growth. Last year’s rollout of LTO-5 and LTFS confirmed the feasibility of the roadmap and let the industry know that tape has a long game.
    • The Active Archive Alliance began working to change tape’s role in the data center from a medium used mostly for deep archiving to one that’s also used for active archive.
    • In 2010, exploding data growth made clear the need for a cost-effective medium for active archive. Since the data explosion is being driven primarily by the creation of net new data, particularly rich media formats, deduplication is just a small part of the solution. Enter tape as the economically smart answer to the data explosion challenge.
  • MFEO.  From making huge amounts of data easily accessible to users and applications, to retaining data for the long term, to reducing primary storage needs and costs, the Summit buzz was that tape and active archive are a perfect match (“made for each other,” even). Moreover, maintaining a copy of data that is free of viruses, real-time corruption and other problems can come in very handy, as Google learned when it relied on backup tape for its Gmail data restoration.
  • Getting up to speed.  As LTO tape speeds increase, servers and clients in the average data center are struggling just to keep up. Enter backup virtualization solutions, which enable tape drives to be pushed to rated speeds, reduce the number of tape drives needed—and pave the way for even faster speeds in the future.
  • Can LTFS and cloud hook up?  Getting data to the cloud or from one cloud to another could get easier with LTFS, which has been described by some as a “giant thumb drive” that can facilitate data migration to and between cloud providers. The big question is whether cloud providers will enable this functionality.
  • Still a few kinks.  For all of its attributes, tape still has a few hurdles to jump.
    • Access time is one of them. Last year, the LTO Consortium released the LTFS file system, which can support an index that would alleviate this problem. Future iterations of LTO and LTFS are expected to feature enhanced indexing technology to further speed access times.
    • Another issue is getting companies in the tape industry to work cooperatively to anticipate the market’s future needs and provide the necessary solutions.

Tape Summit confirmed that the overall discussion is no longer about disk versus tape but about the significant role that tape plays in today’s data center, and how ongoing innovation will secure its role in the data center of the future. So think resurgence, not requiem; tape is very much alive and kicking.

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