Tape Storage

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Ageism in Technology

By Shawn Brume posted Tue June 20, 2023 02:08 PM

    Credit: ©20thCentFox

Over the last 2 decades it has become almost fashionable to discriminate based on age.  I consistently hear how tape is old technology, and how an organization is modernizing their data storage to match the transformation.  It always strikes me as interesting, that the only account of a technology’s usefulness is the date it was introduced.

At this point you probably realize you’ve been click-baited, but not really.

The storage technology business is extremely mature.  Collecting, storing, and retaining data has been part of the human condition since Neanderthals were scribing on cave walls with charcoal. Today the idea of long-term retention and data preservation being conducted on stone is almost ludicrous. However, the demand for collection, provenance, and preservation of vast amounts of data is more important than any other time in history. On average, every single person in the world, generates 1.7 MB of data every second! That equates to filling nearly 1 cubic meter of DVDs with data every year, for every person on the planet.

The real problems facing information architectures are: capacity of data, energy consumption and a sustainable way of life.  Yet, the first comment in any discussion is, “but tape is old!”.  So, let’s look at age of technology in table 1.

Table 1. Introductions of technology

Binary computing (base for all modern computers)   circa. 1680s
Tape Storage 1952
Disk Storage 1957
Unix 1973
Ethernet 1973
Compact Disk 1982
Flash Storage 1983
Microsoft Windows 1985
DVD 2000
Blu-ray 2006

From a fundamental technology point of view, the “youngest” storage technology used by enterprises worldwide is 40-years old (flash storage).  Even more importantly, technology that is now 50-years old, Ethernet technology has displaced the requirements for compact discs, DVDs and Blu-rays. Even more impacting, the technology that is core to 5G, frequency hopping spread spectrum (Patent No. 2292387) was patented in 1942 by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil.  At 81 years old, that makes Wi-Fi the oldest of modern technologies.

The best choice technology has nothing to do with when the technology was conceived or first introduced. Every technology still in existence has continued to undergo revisions and updates that match the needs of current and future information technology infrastructures. Imagine if we only used the newest technology to store data. The average data center would require nearly 9 times more physical space to store the same amount of data as LTO-9 tape storage*.

*Comparing Blu-ray to LTO-9

When it comes to digital data storage, using the right technology at the right time provides the best ROI for stored data. There are only 3 commercially available and viable storage technologies Flash (in several incantations), HDD and Tape. The strengths and weaknesses of each technology combined with the cost of the technology in deployment are initial considerations to deployment. Tape is not in competition with HDD and HDD is not in competition with SSD.  SSDs provide performance and reliability in transactional operations, at a higher cost than equivocal capacity to HDD. Although HDD can meet the performance level of some SSD it requires an order of magnitude in HDDs to get the same transactional performance. HDDs thrive in storing active data that is read, recalled, and optimized for random retrievals. Tape is best for retention of the organization’s most important data. The data that must be retained, curated and available for recall, but not frequently accessed.

If you are establishing new architectures for data storage, look deep into what data is most important, you may find that the lowest cost solution for critical long-term data retention is Tape, the “oldest” storage technology.  72% lower total cost of ownership, 96% lower Energy consumption, 96% lower carbon footprint.