Magnetic tape was first used to store computer data in 1951. By the mid 1970s pretty much everyone relied on tape cassettes and cartridges. Then, with the arrival of data storage discs and the cloud, tape's popularity began to plummet.
The shiny new alternatives positioned tape as a dated, costly, inflexible, unreliable technology that few forward-thinking organisations would dream of using as part of their data storage and protection infrastructure. Consequently, its image bruised and tarnished, tape was expected to quietly disappear into IT oblivion. Only it didn't.
In fact, tape storage is facing a new dawn in a world struggling to get to grips with the impact of big data, environmental pressures, complex IT infrastructures and resource limitations. Investment in the technology has created new high-performance versions of tape that can store vast amounts of data. And in June, Techradar.pro suggested (opens in new tab) that tape might well be the best way of storing data available.
Here are our top four top reasons to celebrate tape:
1. Bring on the big data
Few aspects of business are unaffected by the surge in data volumes and variety. IT departments need to manage and store all this data in a way that is efficient and secure. It's neither possible nor desirable to store it all on servers on site; discs are an expensive option for substantial volumes of data; and not every organisation is ready to fully embrace storage in the cloud. Time for the secure, cost efficient and low maintenance cavalry to ride in. It's called tape.
2. Growing need sparks innovation and investment
Anticipating the storage crunch caused by big data, IBM and Fujifilm in May announced a super-dense magnetic tape capable of storing 85.9 billion bits of data per square inch – that's up to 154 terabytes of uncompressed data per tape (one terabyte is about 1,000 GB). This builds on other recent innovations in tape technology, including the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) format and Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which have boosted the format's storage capability and flexibility.
3. Tape makes sound business sense
Tape has the lowest total cost of ownership of any major data storage system and is the most energy-efficient. This means that firms can use tape to cost-effectively archive data, on or off site, and focus resources on higher cost storage options for active, business-critical or frequently-used data.
Back-up files, video and audio archives, extra copies of data for disaster recovery and regulatory purposes all need to be retained. Tape, with its low power demands and increasingly large data storage capacity is the ideal medium for storing such material long term with minimal impact on the business.
Last but not least, tape has been around for a while and its use is embedded in many organisations. Faced with limited resources, most organisations are building hybrid or tiered storage solutions that make the most of the assets they have, and that includes optimising the use of tape.(opens in new tab)
4. It's legacy-proof
Many IT infrastructures today comprise an assortment of server, software and storage components that have been accumulated over time, with aging legacy systems running alongside the latest technologies. Data compatibility across all these formats is a growing concern for IT teams. Tape is widely supported and has a mature interface, enhancing the long term compatibility of its stored data.
Recent research suggests that while enterprise-size firms appreciate this, mid-market companies may not yet have adjusted their perception of tape.
All 10 of the world's largest banks, all 10 of the world's largest telecommunications companies and eight of the 10 largest pharmaceutical firms make use of tape storage. However, a recent snapshot of 50 mid-market companies in Europe found that tape is used by around half.
Those who use tape for data storage have integrated it into efficient and tiered information storage solutions that generally also include on site storage, disc and, increasingly, cloud. Those who don't seem to be influenced by negative past experiences in terms of reliability and data recovery issues.
Christian Toon is head of information risk for Europe at Iron Mountain (opens in new tab)