Infrastructure // Storage
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3/19/2012
10:59 AM
Mark Peters
Mark Peters
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Emotion Vs. Logic: The Modern Role Of Tape

People love to hate tape. But tape today provides highly cost-effective and reliable answers to certain data storage challenges.

And furthermore, the lithographic advances necessary to drive improved disk areal density recording abilities are going (according to all reasonable measures and expectations) to get harder to come by than are the similar advances with tape. Partly this is an issue of engineering (there are major physical and mechanical "discovery" issues that need to be addressed in order to squeeze more disk bits closer together, whereas tape has a feature size that is 100X disk, which means that there is far more "developmental headroom" to work with); and partly it is an issue of pragmatic business (all development efforts need R&D funding and the disk business has pressures on its remaining suppliers right now, both from the Thailand situation and from the negatively changing type-mix--more high capacity, slower, cheaper, drives, and less lower capacity, faster, more expensive drives--that solid-state is beginning to force on HDD usage).

So it would seem that there's still a place for tape? Apparently in some quarters this is akin to suggesting that the world is flat!

Of course, tape's role as central to backup for virtually everyone has diminished; today's world moves faster than that and (often deduplicated) disk invariably provides the better performance (immediacy and recovery) that is vital. But simultaneously the world has also changed in terms of the sheer volume of data that many organizations need to simply keep (with a commensurately low likelihood of reference) for inordinately long lengths of time. Why would anyone want to store that data on anything other than the cheapest, most reliable media there is? And in that respect the power argument alone is enough to make the case for tape, irrespective of the cost-per-TB.

[ Another fan of tape asks an interesting question. Read Will Tape Replace The Hard Drive? ]

Now, of course, if an application needs fast or frequent response then tape is rarely going to be the answer. But when it comes to less active "cheap, deep, and forever" storage--whether that be for archive or Armageddon purposes--it's hard to argue with the facts. This may help explain why the emotional aspect has become so important! In some of the recent comments I've seen on this we have users that rail on both sides ... everything from (and I've paraphrased because this is a family publication!) "Why the heck would I use unreliable old tape that I can't do a fast recovery from and that everyone hates," to "You'd have to pry my tape library out of my cold, dead hand before I'd give it up."

This is not about being an apologist for the tape industry; it is absolutely about using the appropriate tools for appropriate jobs. Period. And the decisions in this respect should be objective and fact-based. Disk is good, solid state is good, tape is good--all have their place, and suggesting otherwise is specious. Not all applications or users will use all types of storage. But a proper evaluation of needs, resources and the accurate specifications and capabilities of the various storage options would simply seem like common-sense. Or not! At the risk of finishing on an emotional note, I love it! I shall weep tiers of joy ...

Mark Peters is a Senior Analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, a leading independent authority on enterprise storage, analytics, and a range of other business technology interests.

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Greg Bussmann
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Greg Bussmann,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/29/2012 | 7:39:19 PM
re: Emotion Vs. Logic: The Modern Role Of Tape
Great post. As a small business that still provides a lot of tape to our customers, this was a refreshing break from the "tape is dead" articles.

Greg
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2012 | 12:00:22 AM
re: Emotion Vs. Logic: The Modern Role Of Tape
I think that one of the areas that tape has taken over completely is the idea of WORM media. Years and years ago, during the age of magneto-optical discs, it was great to have a location to dump bulk data that you wouldn't need immediate access to, but could not get rid of for compliance or other reasons.

Over the past few years, I've moved from working with organizations that had a few TB of storage to a few hundred TB of storage. In an organization with a smaller data store, it was relatively easy to use tape as a daily/weekly/monthly backup medium - even if the backup window was close to 84 hours for a full datastore backup. With you move up 10x or 100x in data store size, you start running into limitations of the technology with regards to transfer rates, etc. that do limit the role of tape in the enterprise.

I've often had to illustrate how tape can be seen as another tier with regards to a tiered storage solution, an idea that some people embrace and some simply don't understand. It's not that the technology doesn't have a place, the role has changed - and yes, tape still has a place in my datacenter.

Andrew Hornback
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