Could there still be a place for tape?

Often, new technologies bury old ones – think of the demise of the horse and buggy or the record player. But sometimes, established technologies have a funny way of flailing for a bit then finding a new equilibrium. In-theater movie going, for instance, didn’t die when at-home devices became popular – they both simply learned to coexist in an expanded marketplace to the benefit and joy of consumers who now had more freedom than before.

Here’s another great example: For years now, ever since the advent of the disk, pundits have predicted the apocalyptic demise of tape backup – derisively calling it “end-of-life” technology.

But it just hasn’t happened. Tape is still here, firmly entrenched in the overwhelming majority (82%) of onsite backups. Or to borrow from Mark Twain, “the reports of physical tape’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

In fact, tape solutions continue to play a huge role for backup, recovery, long-term data retention and data protection in most organizations, particularly small and medium sized businesses.


For one, disk solutions are still more than 15 times more costly than tape. Disk technology also uses nearly 250 times more energy, meaning the energy costs alone to run disks can cost more than the entire cost of tape, which for its part still costs only about 3 cents a gigabyte. And an examination of acquisition costs and total cost of ownership of tape versus disk-based architectures over a five-year timeframe shows that tape easily wins on both fronts.

Secondly and related to the bottom line cost issue is the reality that many enterprises – and particular SMBs – simply can’t afford to wait to recover huge technology investments over an extended period of time. And they understand that there’s no point
spending more than they need (or have) on pricey disks for storing data they’ll rarely, and hopefully never have to access again.

Thirdly, a strong case can be made for tape over disk when it comes to offline and offsite data protection. If a network goes down or a hurricane or earthquake takes out your data center, tape provides a physical archived record of your data away from the mayhem.

Finally, while tape once had a well-deserved reputation for being unreliable and difficult to use, today’s tape drives and LTO technology are highly reliable and incredibly simple to manage.

In the final analysis – like movie versus home theaters – there will continue to be a role to play for both tape and disk backup technologies, particularly for cost-conscious enterprises. Blending the two allows businesses to achieve the performance they need – for instance, the need to access high availability data – while still keeping a handle on strained budgets. And those strained budgets may be a big reason why a recent Fleishman-Hillard survey revealed that 61% of disk-only users still planned to start using this so-called “end-of-life” tape technology.

If Mark Twain understood what the heck data storage was, he’d be smiling right now.

Related Post: On demand scalability, simpler management and more.

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About Ferrol Macon

Ferrol Macon’s career for more than 20 years has lived at the intersection of people and technology. He has been a part of designing storage and data management solutions for companies large and small in almost every industry.