Tape is still top when it comes to archiving data

Aficionados of The Rolling Stones may be surprised to learn that one of the group’s oldest songs is called No One Loves You More Than Me.

But the apparent gap in their discographical knowledge needn’t cause too much embarrassment; the song, recorded in 1964, was only discovered, languishing in a loft on a reel-to-reel tape (

Had that unreleased track been digitised and stored on disk, however, the chances are it would never have been heard. For all its benefits, data stored on disk offers little in the way of longevity. Certainly surviving 50 years would have been unlikely according to storage received wisdom.

It highlights a critical issue: as the volume of data being created rises rapidly, so too does the amount that needs to be kept for many years – whether it’s for legal or compliance reasons or simply because it’s information that just needs to be preserved.

As this archived data is often kept untouched and unread for long periods, primary storage methods are no longer fit for purpose; they are comparatively expensive and offer a higher level of functionality that is not required.

Tape has always held pole position in that long-term, rarely-accessed world of archiving: it was the cheapest and best option on many fronts. Yet developments, specifically in HDD capacity which is reducing the cost per byte, have prompted many to call time on tape.

The latest attempt to drive a nail into the coffin of this oldest of digital storage systems is John Fruehe on Forbes ( citing the Sony Optical Archive as the device that will topple tape from its data storage pedestal because of its ability to hold vast swathes of data.

“Sony has developed an optical library that can hold up to 181PB in a single system (four of which can be tied together for 724PB of total storage),” he says. “Customers can literally store everything, virtually forever, and retrieve it in no time at all.” To show how much 181PB is, all the data for Google Maps and Google Earth, he says, comes to 20PB.

In a similar vein, the University of Southampton has just developed a small glass optical disc - about the size of a button – which is says can store 360TB of data… forever ( The big advantage optical has over HDD or tape comes down to use; because it uses laser technology and requires no physical contact it is more resilient. However, as archive data is rarely accessed, such robustness - and its premium price - makes it over-engineered and uneconomic for many to consider as an archive medium.

Other storage media are also innovating and improving, appearing gradually to erode any advantage tape held. Optical (with its greater capacity) aside, whether it is disk (offering faster access), SSD (more resilience) or cloud (which, as users are paying for a service rather than the equipment, shifts costs from Capex to Opex so making it easier to scale), there are many who declare tape has lost its edge and that its days are numbered.

How is tape responding to this encroachment? Mainly by emphasising its advantage over disk when it comes to durability, and over all its rivals on cost (although the price of SSDs is also coming down by 30% a year, according to Tech Target []). Jason Buffington on TechTarget ( says tape is also a lot faster than many think; able to transfer data at 160MB/s. Capacity is also increasing; Fujifilm and IBM have recently demonstrated a 220TB single LTO ultrium-style cartridge (

Tape’s biggest drawback, though, has always been its inability to offer easy retrieval, as it records the data sequentially. Even with deep stored data, access is still a consideration. Now, however, with Linear Tape File System, which allows tape to be used in the same way as flash storage, ie easily searchable by allowing users to drag and drop files to and from, that drawback is being addressed.

With these techno makeovers, tape seems to be holding its archive dominant position, as Peri Grover on CRN said: “Tape is the only viable offering for archive-tier data.” (

What is clear from all this data media posturing is that no one format offers the total answer. As Nick Powling, general manager of components at Hammer, the specialist value-add distributor says, it simply highlights the importance of developing an overall data storage strategy using a mix of media.

This multiple use approach, maximising the benefits of each, has led to the creation of Active Archive such as that from HGST, a virtualised file storage system that moves data between multiple media types including SSDs, HDDs, tape, optical and cloud.

Knowing what options are available, what each medium can offer, and what is best suited to specific needs is something Hammer has honed over the past 25 years. Backed by its global network of 40 vendors, Hammer’s storage experts are ideally placed to advise on the best solution for any organisation.

Source: Hammer
Published Date: 07/02/2017

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