Tape Data Storage Market: Buying Guide

Monday Sep 30th 2013 by Drew Robb
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Contrary to the hype, tape is far from dead in the data storage market.

Tape storage is certainly not the sexiest area of storage. While the cloud and software-defined storage boast hundreds of startups, the tape market’s maturity can work against it.

Products are generally up to their umpteenth version and new products typically follow the development path of the latest Linear Tape-Open (LTO) release. When LTO-6 came out at the end of last year, all tape vendors updated their gear accordingly. We covered some of them in our last tape buying guide.

As nearly a year has gone by, it’s time to give tape some more coverage.

Tape Market Rebound

Deduplication vendor Data Domain essentially held a funeral for tape about five or six years back with its “Tape Sucks” campaign. The rumors of that demise were certainly premature. According to IDC analyst Robert Amatruda, tape capacity shipments exceeded 20,000 PB and grew 13% in 2012 and that growth is projected to double in 2013.

He said that tape has solidified its role as the storage medium of choice for those dealing with large, rapidly growing quantities of data, extended data retention periods and IT budget pressures. As well as in backup, disaster recovery (DR) and compliance, tape is experiencing a boom in areas such as active file archiving, low-cost NAS storage and as an archive for cloud providers. The worldwide enterprise tape automation market (i.e. libraries with enterprise tape drives) posted nearly 30% year-over-year revenue growth in 2012.

“IT executives and cloud service providers are discovering new use cases for tape technology that leverages its unique operational and cost advantages,” said Amatruda. “This is shifting tape’s usage from its historical role in data backup to one that includes archive.”

As for the LTO-6 market, if tape was really on a downward spiral, it would show up in a decline in adoption of LTO-6 compared to earlier LTO iterations when deduplication, solid state and other innovations were not yet in play, right? Amatruda noted that state of health and expansion by revealing that the industry shipped more capacity in the first three quarters after introduction than any other LTO format.

Tape Market Players

While the popular perception may be that tape belongs to a very tiny subset of vendors, the reality is quite different. The Tape Storage Council, for example, includes companies such as BDT, Crossroads Systems, FUJIFILM, HP, IBM, Imation, Iron Mountain, Oracle, Overland Storage, QuantumSpectra Logic and Tandberg Data.

Who Uses Tape?

If tape is growing, then who exactly is using it? The list of marquee users is surprising. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ (NCSA) Blue Waters supercomputer, for example, is a 380 petabyte tape storage monster for near-line production data with read/write rates of 2.2 PBs per hour.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball (MLB) uses tape to capture video content and store an additional 25 to 30TB of video data each day as well as to operate an existing library of over 13,000 LTO tapes. But it isn’t just the big boys. CyArk, a small non-profit, plans to add nearly 2 PB of data to their archive over the next five years as it takes on more clients. It has selected tape rather than disk due to cost and other factors.

Recent Tape Announcements

There are fewer tape product announcements than in other areas of storage. Let’s take a look at a few highlights among recent tape products:

Spectra T-Finity Tape Library with TKLM Encryption Key Management

Spectra Logic characterizes its T-Finity as the world’s largest tape library. As such, it scales to 50,100 LTO cartridges in one library for a maximum compressed capacity of 313 petebytes using LTO-6. The latest addition to it comes with encryption key management. “Capable of managing multiple libraries and sites from a central point, Spectra TKLM allows enterprises to consolidate and simplify encryption key management practices, reduce costs and improve overall security,” said Jon Hiles, Senior Product Manager, Spectra Logic.

“The T-Finity with TKLM targets enterprise users having unique scalability, performance, and data integrity needs.” Such users may also have discrete security needs that include FIPS compliance, policy-based encryption key management and audit capabilities, as well as a need to comply with industry standards like Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP). They are likely to have scalability requirements for encryption that may spans thousands of tapes, over a million keys, and across multiple libraries and data center sites. The cost of T-Finity with TKLM starts at $265,656 for a base unit, including 2 LTO-6 tape drives and 100 tape slots.

Tandberg Data LTO-6 HH FC

Tandberg Data was the first tape vendor to start shipping LTO-6 tape drives and tape automation products last year. It has now released the first LTO-6 Half Height (HH) Fibre Channel (FC) external desktop tape drive. This unit is capable of backing up 6.25TB on one cartridge. This new LTO- drive is aimed at media, entertainment, broadcasting and imaging applications as it provides a means of storing video files, managing workflow and simplifying archiving. It can also be used as a portable backup and archiving platform for the Mac. Its Linear Tape File System means that an hour of HD video (500GB) can be transferred in less than 50 minutes.

Other features include performance of up to 1.4TB/Hr (compressed), media costs said to be less than $.02/GB per cartridge, 30-year archive life and encryption. The LTO-6 HH FC external tape drive costs $3,499 with LTO-6 media costing $99.00.

“We have customers using these products within media and entertainment, military and medical, and many have transitioned to LTO-6 very quickly as they future proof their investment in tape,” Simon Anderson, Product Manager – Tape Products, Tandberg Data. “As a rule of thumb, tape is typically 15 times cheaper than disk, and tape offers the only long-term solution for managing data growth. It allows organization to reduce the cost of storage, reduce downtime and increase productivity.

Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain has been offering archival tape management and tape vaulting for years. Even though it has greatly expanded its services to include disk backup options, the company remains a firm supporter of tape.

“Tape backup continues to be a cornerstone of any organization’s data management practices regardless of industry, geography or size,” said Jay Livens, director of product and solution marketing, Iron Mountain.

The company highlighted the continuing role of tape, even in small businesses, in a recent survey. While SMBs are being pounded with the message that disk is cheap and tape is old hat, a recent Iron Mountain survey demonstrated that plenty of them remain loyal to tape. An impressive 94% of survey respondents using or planning to use tape are using it along with disk. Some 43% of respondents cited cost, while 24% cite longevity as the reason for remaining with tape.

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