By Andrew Dodd, Worldwide Marketing Communications Manager, HP Storage Media
Hello and welcome to the Tape Talk blog!
My aim in creating this platform is to discuss the continued relevance and success of tape and why the technology still matters, perhaps more so now than at any time in its sixty year history. In the weeks and months ahead, I will comment on important developments for HP tape and for the tape industry generally. I will also highlight key market trends and providing counter-arguments to those companies and critics who are quick to proclaim that tape is an outdated technology whose day is past.
I have news for them: it isn’t!
In May this year, tape technology celebrated its 60th birthday, which is an incredible achievement for a technology that made its debut in 1952, just as President Eisenhower was preparing to enter the White House. But contrary to the doubts of some commentators, however, this venerable IT solution is a long way from being ready to head out to pasture. If anything, the exact opposite is true. Tape’s reputation is thriving thanks to its core benefits of almost limitless tape media storage, scalability, low-cost and long-term durability. Those who say otherwise are increasingly in a small but vocal minority, which may be one of the reasons why the argument still appears to have some credibility. But even EMC, arch-proponent of the tapeless world, is publishing white papers that talk about the complementary strengths of tape and disk.
Perceptions of the future change all the time but when tape technology was new, it quickly became synonymous with ultra-cool modernity. Think of all those spinning, whirring reels in pristine control rooms in Bond films and other science fiction movies of the Sixties. Tape was the ‘Tom-Cruise-Minority-Report’ vision of the future for a generation growing up with The Beatles and marvelling at astronauts. But as consumer audiences began to shift away from analog products like audio cassettes, VHS and camera film, tape quickly became retro nostalgia in the mind of the mainstream.
But whilst cassettes and cartridges have faded into the mist as far as consumers are concerned, in the business world, tape products never went away. The world’s most successful tape format, LTO Ultrium, is now enjoying a resurgence, supported by new features like Encryption and Linear Tape File System that make it more relevant than ever.
Tape storage lives on
So what is it about tape backup and archiving that has allowed it to defy its detractors and survive so many attempts to write its obituary? As Mark Peters of Enterprise Storage Group writes, it basically comes down to two incontrovertible facts:
Despite a constant flow of “tape is dead” jibes and assertions from non-tape vendors, the technology has refused to die. This is no doubt due to a couple of tape’s basic attributes: it is capable of storing a lot of data for a very long time, largely aside from system intrusions, and – most important of all – doing it extremely cost effectively.
Working in the tape industry, I realise that my opinions are informed by what I do for a living. But increasingly, it seems that the viewpoint of tape supporters like myself is becoming conventional wisdom again. The roadmap for current LTO Ultrium tape products extends to about 2018 and manufacturers have already demonstrated working prototypes of cartridges that can hold up to 35 TB of data, more than 10 times the capacity of today’s largest containers.
It may never appear in a James Bond movie again, but tape technology seems to be on the verge of a new era where society at large is aware and glad of its existence. Last year, when Google’s Gmail service suffered a crippling outage that destroyed all copies of user emails held on their disk-based storage, it was tape that saved the day. The only reason that Google was able to restore the inboxes that had been lost was because there were copies of last resort stored offline, and inviolable, on tape. According to Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of Technical Infrastructure and Google Fellow at Google:
We use tapes, still, in this age because they’re actually a very cost-effective way as a last resort for Gmail. The reason why we put it in is not physical data loss, but once in a blue moon you will have a bug that destroys all copies of the online data and your only protection is to have something that is not connected to the same software system, so you can go and redo it.
Whilst tape has a long history, there is no doubt it could still have a long future too.
So please join the discussion on the Tape Talk blog and put the retirement party for tape on hold!