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New advancements expand tape’s role in today’s modern data centers

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The role of tape in modern data centres is quickly expanding into new markets as compelling technological advancements have positioned tape as the most economical, reliable, highest capacity, and secure storage medium available. These new advancements are highlighted in the recently issued Tape Storage Council 2019 State of the Tape Industry report and include:

New enterprise tape drive

One of the most recent technological advancements includes the arrival of the IBM TS1160 enterprise tape drive. The IBM drive is helping tape tackle mounting storage-intensive challenges, including cloud storage, high-performance computing (HPC), and the expanding number of hyperscale data centres. The new drive also positions tape to serve the unknown appetite of entertainment, surveillance, and the rapid emergence of the IoT and edge computing.

Tape roadmaps - LTO roadmap extended to generation 12

The current LTO technology roadmap details specifications of up to twelve (12) generations of LTO tape technology, extending the total capacity of data held on one LTO-12 tape cartridge to 480 TB with 2.5x compression – an increase of 16 times the compressed capacity of LTO-8 cartridges. The LTO roadmap projects that native capacities of LTO drives will approximately double with every subsequent generation.

Tape TCO calculators

Tape’s growing advantage – as measured by cost per gigabyte and total cost of ownership (TCO) compared with other storage mediums – makes it the most cost-effective technology for long-term data retention. Two easy-to-use TCO calculators are available from Brad Johns Consulting and the LTO Consortium to help companies assess the TCO of automated tape systems compared with HDDs and cloud-based storage.

Active archives address complexity

Active Archive solutions are gaining momentum and significantly improve access time to tape data by using HDDs or SSDs as a cache buffer in conjunction with a tape library. The active archive enables a high percentage of read requests to the tape subsystem to be satisfied with SSDs or HDDs (the cache hit ratio), improving access time to the first byte of data. An active archive can serve onsite, offsite, and cloud environments. New use cases such as AI, machine learning, big data analytics, and the IoT, including intelligent vehicles, homes, and offices, are driving increased demand for active archives. This demand is particularly evident with organisations that need to effectively manage and analyse data from terabytes to exabytes across multiple storage tiers.

Growing tape capacities and data rates

Tape capacities and data rates are growing faster than other storage technologies. When comparing native data rates, the TS1160 drive has an industry-leading transfer rate of 400 MB/sec, and LTO-8 transfers data at 360 MB/sec. This rate compares with the 7,200 RPM HDDs, which typically range between 160 – 200 MB/sec. The INSIC roadmap projects future transfer rate increases to yield tape data rates 5x faster than HDDs by 2025 with no fundamental technology limitations in sight.

RAIT improvements to throughput and fault tolerance

RAIT (Redundant Arrays of Independent Tape) aggregates bandwidth across multiple tape drives, significantly increasing throughput. RAIT requires that multiple tapes to be loaded in parallel for writing and reading data and is like RAID for HDDs. RAIT usage is expected to increase, taking advantage of the significant increases in future tape transfer rates.

RAO and TAOS - improving tape file access times

RAO (Recommended Access Order) was released with the IBM TS1140 tape drive and is available for enterprise tape drives for improving tape access times (time to first byte). Presently, files are written on tape in sequential order but are most often accessed (reading data) in random order. Customers tolerated this inefficiency in the past, but as tape capacities and, therefore, the number of files on a cartridge continues to increase, file access times will increase. The RAO determination produces an optimised list called “best access order” and provides the least amount of time that is needed to locate and read all files or data sets on a tape.

For LTO drives, Spectra Logic introduced TAOS (Time-based Access Ordering System) in 2018, which is similar to the RAO feature for enterprise drives improving tape access time (time to first byte). With TAOS, the order in which the files are retrieved can be reordered for “best access” using shortcuts on the tape, reducing the tape movement time required to retrieve a file. Access time reductions as much as 50 per cent are attainable for RAO and TAOS. Before 2018, no such access time functionality had existed for LTO tape-drive-based systems.

These milestones have led to tape becoming the optimal storage solution for many next-generation applications that are quickly exceeding the capabilities of traditional infrastructures. Tape solutions are solving new storage and security infrastructure challenges associated with Big Data, cloud storage services, media and entertainment, hyperscale computing, IoT, and surveillance use cases, all of which are projected to drive enormous storage demand. Up to 90 per cent of data is rarely touched once it has been stored, so data storage managers are placing infrequently accessed (or cold data) on high capacity, cost-efficient tape instead of keeping it on the more expensive and constantly spinning disks.

And, the continued development of and investments in tape library, drive, media, and data management software is future-proofing organisations’ tape deployments and will help ensure continued advancements in reliability, capacity, and power efficiency. These developments are also aimed at maintaining tape’s position as the lowest cost per GB storage. With its unique benefits and continuous innovation, tape has the greatest potential to address the soaring capacity demands today and far into the future.

Members, Tape Storage Council

Founded in 2012, the Tape Storage Council is a collaborative industry group dedicated to promoting the current trends, usages and technology innovations occurring within the tape storage industry.