Around the Storage Block Blog
Find out about all things data storage from Around the Storage Block at HP Communities.

Six reasons why tape is still alive and kicking!

By Simon Watkins, StorageWorks nearline product marketing manager


To take liberties with a famous quote by Mark Twain...rumors of tape's demise have been greatly exaggerated.


If you believe some industry hype, tape is yesterday's data protection solution. Some of our competitors-specifically advocates of disk-based only solutions-are claiming that businesses will ultimately abandon tape in favor of disk-based data protection alternatives. While newer disk drives with higher capacities and lower costs are an attractive first-line backup solution, tape solutions still deliver the most cost-effective, reliable all-round solution for archiving business information.  


The truth is, you don't buy tape because it's "a hot new technology." You buy it because of six key attributes:


  1. Tape is a robust and portable medium that enables easy offsite storage of data for disaster recovery. Features such as WORM and hardware-based data encryption provide the additional security of protected data at rest and in transit.

  2. Tape is space and cost-efficient for longer-term storage.  We know you are facing the challenges of escalating volumes of data, increased compliance with data retention legislation and space constraints in the data centre. With LTO, you can now store up to 3.0TBs of compressed data on a single LTO-5 data cartridge. These tapes can be easily housed in a secure offsite vault and exist offline without power or cooling requirements.

  3. Tape has a long lifespan with a proven shelf life (of up to 30 years for LTO media) for reliable long-term archival. This is vitally important when you are challenged with complying with legislation that generally requires that data must be retained for longer. 

  4. Tape storage offers highly cost-effective storage and is great value for money. In fact it is still one of the lowest cost per gigabyte medium to hold your archive data-with LTO-5 media delivering a cost of 5 cents per gigabyte.   So ask yourself: why waste money paying for the ability to quickly get to data you're unlikely to ever access? Estimates suggest that 95% of data may never be accessed again beyond 90 days after creation-so why fly all your data "first class" when "coach" will do?

  5. Tape is cool-at least from an energy efficiency and cleanliness perspective!  It's offline, so there's no power or cooling required which goes a long way to helping you manage data center power and cooling limitations challenges.

  6. Tape continues to innovate providing for growth. Large companies like HP, and our competitors such as IBM, Sun and Sony are continuing to invest money into tape roadmaps that develop bigger, faster and more secure tape drives to ensure that there's a future for tape that will provide growth and investment protection. 


Predictions of tape's demise have been around for numerous years...and yet the tape market is thriving and tape itself continues to evolve. Tell us how and why your organization continues to use tape for data storage.


If you'd like to read more on HP tape solutions, here's a recent feature article on how tape just keeps getting better with new LTO-5 tape drives. Also check out this new white paper to help you reassess tape's ability to meet your business demands.


(Editor's note: This post was edited on 29 July to fix formatting from the migration to our new blog platform)

Anonymous | ‎05-19-2010 02:02 AM

Hi Calvin

Just as a thought exercise, compare paper-based information storage to tape in the same way you're comparing tape to disk.

Paper is a robust and portable medium, and supports WORM :-)  You can store information very densely on paper, and media costs are extremely cheap.  Paper is energy efficient and "clean".  Paper has been proven to have a very long lifespan, unless there's a disaster.

The problem with paper?  It's hard to recover from, or access information that's stored on it in useful ways.

Just like tape.

-- Chuck

| ‎05-19-2010 04:04 AM

Hi Chuck,

I'm not the author of this post so I'll let Simon respond to your thought exercise.  That said, I'm never short of an opinion so I'll add a couple of thoughts:

  • I'm not surprised by your response - after all it was EMC ex-CEO Mike Ruettgers that started the whole "Tape is Dead" mantra back in the late 90's/early 2000's.  Also reminds me of EMC's positioning of Symmetrix for everyone prior to acquiring DG.  As the saying goes - when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  • To follow on to your compare, I guess I can assume you've thrown out all of your books and are visiting your local libraries advocating book burnings and move everything to disk drives.  Now of course I'm being overly flip to make my point - use case and factors like retention period, costs, capacity, etc. all play a role in determining what the ideal answer for a customer might look like.  

  • Tape clearly isn't dead - and in fact I've seen data recently that showed there's more tape capacity being sold now than ever.  Clearly many customers would disagree with you because they continue to rely on tape in the backup and archiving practices.

Tape has it's place despite the fact that its not a technology developed or manufactured by EMC.

Anonymous | ‎05-19-2010 10:24 PM

Hi Calvin,

It's nice to know that the storage pyramid model is still alive and kicking (with paper at the bottom), 20 years after I first came across it.

However, the problem with tape is not the longevity of the medium, but the issues over finding a suitable tape drive and software to be able to recover the data, should that be required. LTO, as a standard, only supports read/write back one version, and read back two versions, so LTO5 drives can't read LTO2 tapes. This causes us quite a problem, as we have to shuffle the data up to more recent tape formats, in order to be able to keep it in machine-readable format for the required period of time. Keeping LTO2 drives is not an option, for support cost reasons, so the movement of data to supported environments is an on-going operational overhead.

At least with paper, scan-to-text is quite efficient and is de-coupled from the writing mechanism.

Maybe we should be thinking of using 3-D printers to create Rosetta stone storage?

Personally, I'm a great fan of CDROM. Reliable, cheap and based on international standards.

Anonymous | ‎05-21-2010 03:34 AM

Hi Jules,

CDROM... You have to be kidding me about reliability. I can live with cheap and a standard, but relaible? I cannot count the number of times I've bought repalcement DVDs or CDs because they've developed a scratch. CDs are a great way to transfer files, but I wouldn't be betting my data on a medium that's so easily damaged.

Anonymous | ‎05-22-2010 01:19 AM

Hi Chuck,

Clearly both disk and tape technologies have a role to play in any robust, tiered data-protection strategy.  The specific availability and continuity needs of every organisation will be different dependent on their recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives for specific applications and IT services.   Ultimately one of the best metrics for the value of any technology is customer adoption...over 3.3 million LTO tape drives have been purchased by customer worldwide since launch and the capacity of available storage shipped on tape media has been increasing quarter-on-quarter for over five years with tape customers purchasing over 3,600 PB of tape capacity in Q4 CY'09.  And in response to one of the questions in the annual InfoStor Reader Survey of 2009, three quarters of respondents indicated that they still use tape for data protection in one form or another.  That is, they were either using tape on it’s own, or more often, combining it with disk to gain the best of both worlds – disk for faster restore performance and tape for lower cost archival.   Clearly when it comes to disk and tape data size does not fit all.

Anonymous | ‎05-22-2010 05:37 AM

Tape is the ultimate assurance against a rogue admin or program. With the exception of EMC's WORM array I am not aware of another platform that can truly protect  your data against someone with all the keys.

MK | ‎07-19-2010 11:41 PM

Can some one explain to me why the tape is a better solution from using a 2.5" HDD based cartridges...

It has more life span and might be faster as well and can be stored in secure places..


Frank | ‎10-22-2010 11:12 PM



I'm very surprised by your comparison between paper and tape. I do not think that any of your points are valid.

 * Paper is not space efficient per TB. Do you know how many book shelves you need to store 1 tapes worth of data?

 * Paper is not eco-friendly. Do you know how many trees and how much energy it takes to manufacture enough

   paper to hold 1 TB of data?

  * Paper is expensive. Do you know the cost of buying enough paper and binders to hold a TB of data?

 * Paper is not always durable. I have store receipts for items with a 1 year warantee where the print faded before the warantee period expired.

 * In terms of search, tape does not have the same characteristics as paper. Depending upon the tape library, data on tape can be very easy to locate. The problems come when tapes must be handled manually. Even with manual tape libraries, tapes are many orders of magnitude better at data management than paper. Let's say you have 3TB of data. That will require 2 or 3 tapes. Try finding a particular page in 3TB of paper.


Mike Cavanagh | ‎10-28-2010 07:31 PM

Hi Calvin-  do you have time over the next two weeks, I'd like to tell you about some unique media back up work we've done using a soon to be patented technology with your LTO 5 LTFS system

| ‎10-29-2010 05:52 PM

Hi Mike - I may not be the right person for you to talk to but I can point you in the right direction.  Be sure to give me a bit of detail so I can get you in touch with the right peope.


You can send me an email at calvin dot zito at


Cheap Paper | ‎03-10-2011 12:23 AM

I thinkg that's why tape are still used by most TV and Radio Station in our country.

Xerolooper | ‎03-27-2012 08:17 PM

I am fighting this battle right now. Those above my pay grade want to move to disk only backups. They seem to be thinking very narrow and linearly. Yes they can send all our data to an offsite disk storage location. Then any file that is not touched is removed locally to make space and is still accessable from the offsite storage. Sounds great as a pure backup solution if a local data server crashed we could recover using this offsite storage. Can it recover the deleted files from last week maybe. But what happens when a file was corrupted sometime two weeks ago and we need to find out when and restore. They claim they can turn on a snapshot feature but they don't plan on it because it would take way more disk space. So the primary use we have for our backups would not be addressed by disk storage. Therefore we still have backup to tape. 

| ‎03-29-2012 06:14 AM

Xerolooper - totally agree with you.  Disk-based backup is a great solution for short-to-medium term recovery of data.  I think as dedup-based backup appliances scale and hold more information (check out how HP StoreOnce is scaling), that is a viable option.  But as you said, when you need an older backup file or you need to have a long term, low cost archive, tape still makes a ton of sense. 

Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Do you mean 
About the Author
25+ years experience around HP Storage. The go-to guy for news and views on all things storage..

Follow Us
The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation.