It has long been public opinion that tape storage is dead in favour of hard disk drives, in fact this is quite the opposite and tape has been making a comeback in recent years. Tape brings three main benefits, high capacity, air-gapped and cost effective. In this blog we will explore the advantages of tape in more detail.
To understand why it is making a comeback we fist need to understand the limitations of hard disk drives (HDD). To simplify it, HDDs contain a spinning plate called a platter which is made of a magnetic material, the material is divided into billions of individual tiny areas, each individual area is a single bit of data. The HDD also contains a read/write head that magnetises or demagnetises each area to change the state of the bit to either 1 or 0. This technology has its place in the modern system, but we are now reaching its limits. Over time we have been able to make each area on the platter increasingly smaller, meaning each bit of data consumes less physical space on the platter, thus increasing the HDD’s storage density, however we are now nearing the limit that can be achieved, meaning that advancements in the capacity of HDDs have been slowing of recent years.
This is where tape storage comes in, in the early days of modern computing tape was a popular storage medium but soon fell out of favour to the use of hard disk drives, because of this research and development in tape decreased, although in the background this technology was still offered and improved upon by IBM. This means that tape storage still has room for improvement and with growing demand for the technology we can expect it to continue to evolve.
IBM’s latest generation of LTO tape technology LTO-9 offers 18 TB of native storage capacity and up to 45 TB when compressed, and compression is performed on the drive itself meaning no additional overhead to your system. When looking back at previous generation of LTO tape we can see the rate of storage capacity improvements, LTO-7 had a native capacity of 6 TB and up to 15 TB when compressed. LTO-8 had a native capacity of 12 TB native and up to 30 TB when compressed. This shows that LTO-9 has a 200% native capacity improvement over LTO-7 and a 50% improvement over LTO-8.
With the rise of ransomware attacks and data theft the need for securing your data is more crucial than ever. Tape storage allows for your data to be completely air-gapped, meaning that once the tape has been written to and removed from the drive the only way the data can be accessed is if it were to be physically loaded into a drive, this ensures that your organisations data cannot be accessed once the tape has been removed from the drive, this makes tape idea for archival or backup storage.
IBM LTO-9 is designed to natively support AES-256-bit data encryption. Encryption and decryption processing is performed on the drive itself meaning no additional processing overhead on your system. This adds an additional layer of protection for your data, meaning that once your data is written to a tape and removed from the drive it is air-gapped, and if someone were to acquire the tape for a malicious purpose, once loaded the tape would be fully encrypted and they would be unable to read its contents.
Flexibility & Scalability
An added benefit of tape storage is the flexibility that comes with it. Having the ability to write up to 45 TB to a removable cartridge allows for other options when managing your IT environment. For example you are replacing one of your core database servers, or you are moving your physical environment to a virtualised environment in a different location, the high capacity attributed to tape storage allows you to write vast amounts of data, in most cases entire servers and safely and securely transport it, without the risks associated with transporting other mediums, for example hard disk drives which are prone to failure after long term use and transportation. Tape storage is very resilient to extreme temperature changes, physical shocks, and vibrations, this makes tape ideal for long term storage or transportation of data.
Tape storage is also incredibly scalable when compared to other storage mediums, if you require more capacity, just add another tape and the drive will continue writing the data to the additional tape cartridges. This allows tape to be utilised for very large environments and as a scalable option for the future.
Another added benefit of LTO tape storage is backwards compatibility, meaning that once you have made the decision to utilise tape in your environment you are not just confined to the LTO version of the drive you purchased. If you decide to upgrade to the next generation from your drive your existing tapes will still be usable. Since the introduction of LTO-8, drives have been backwards compatible by one generation.
Consumption & Cost
A total of cost of ownership (TCO) comparison against other long-term storage mediums shows that tape storage is by far the most cost effective. This is done by looking at the TCO of tape and dividing it per GB, this is then performed for other mediums and then the TCO per GB is compared.
Due to the impressive native and compressed capacity of LTO-9 tape and its low cost per tape cartridge this makes it very cost effective, even when considering the tape library or individual drive required to utilise the tape, which do attribute some initial costs.
Another often overlooked benefit of tape storage is that when compared to other storage mediums tape is very power efficient, this makes tape ideal in situations where power consumption is a concern, thus reducing the carbon footprint of your environment and potentially saving your organisation energy costs in the long run.
Tape storage is an ideal solution to add to your environment as a tool for the growing demand for storage capacity, this allows you to offload large amounts of data to a secure, fully encrypted, and cost-effective storage medium. Tape is not a replacement for hard disk drives or SSDs as it is needs to be read sequentially but when used in conjunction with HDDs and SSDs it adds the possibility for vast amounts of additional storage capacity for data where this isn’t as much of an issue, for example when used for achieving or for backups.
If you would like to know more about IBM tape storage, please contact [email protected] and we will put you in touch with one of our storage experts.