How Tape Can Help Close the Data Storage Gap

In the era of big data, magnetic tape will play a vital role in fulfilling the need for nearline and archival storage solutions.

The Storage Gap
The world’s data storage needs are increasing—rapidly. According to a report by IDC the amount of global data produced annually in 2020 is around 50 zettabytes (50 trillion gigabytes). This demand is expected to more than triple in just five years, with the annual datasphere expanding to 175 zettabytes in 2025. That’s an incredible rate of growth, but not surprising given the ever-increasing number of Internet users generating data and end devices collecting it. The steady rollout of the Internet of Things and its massive networks of data-collecting devices will also ensure this growth will continue apace.

However, traditional hard disks drives (HDDs) will not be able to meet this growing demand, due to manufacturing limitations, the physical limitations of the technology, their reliability, and cost. This isn’t a projection; it’s already occurring. According to Seagate, in 2019, there was demand for 30,800 exabytes of storage space, but only 19,800 exabytes were supplied, a 43-percent gap. This year, the gap is expected to grow to 53 percent. One big problem is that we are beginning to reach the capacity ceiling for traditional HDDs. In fact, the recent gains we have seen in hard disk storage space are largely the result of finding ways to cram more platters and drive heads into the same form factor or bolstering its storage space with supplemental solid-state memory.

Solid-state drives (SSD) are a growing storage segment that offers larger capacities, but their higher cost per terabyte makes them prohibitively expensive for large deployments. While SSDs will have their place in helping close the storage gap—especially in situations in which data needs to be accessed often, thanks to its high data throughput—they are not a feasible solution for storing the mounds of data that will be generated but rarely accessed. For example, many industries are beholden to regulations that require businesses to store records for certain periods of time (or even indefinitely in some case). The medical field is especially subject to tight guidelines requiring the archival of patient information. With more and more data continually accumulating and restrictions in place that prevent its deletion, you can see how trying to keep up with ballooning storage requirements using SSDs—or even HDDs, for that matter—simply doesn’t make economical sense. This leaves us with a critical need for a storage option that provides enough space to keep up with rising demand without breaking the bank.

The Role of Magnetic Tape
This is where magnetic tape storage enters the picture. But to quote the immortal words of LL Cool J, “don’t call it a comeback,” tape’s been here for years. Those of a certain age will undoubtably be familiar with the technology from its use in VHS and audio cassettes, but they might be unaware of its vital role in our current data storage paradigm. This oversight is understandable, as magnetic tape storage has advanced by leaps and bounds since its mainstream consumer breakthrough in the 1980s. The current leading tape data storage format is called Linear Tape-Open (LTO), which was created in the late ‘90s by the LTO Consortium, a group comprising IBM, HP, and Quantum. The LTO format is considerably more advanced than the tape storage technology that came before it, offering much larger storage capacities by volume and faster throughput.

The current generation of the format is LTO-8, which offers 12 terabytes of uncompressed storage or 30 terabytes of compressed storage per tape cartridge. But the technology has by no means reached its peak. The LTO Consortium has issued a roadmap for the next four generations of the format, each offering greater storage capacities than the last. LTO-12, for example, is forecast to provide storage for up to 192 terabytes of uncompressed data and a whopping 480 terabytes of compressed data. A beneficial side effect of this increased storage is that as the data density of each cartridge goes up, so too does the speed at which the tape can be read/written to. This means that not only does LTO wipe the floor with other storage media alternatives in terms of total capacity and price per terabyte, its throughput speed gap is diminishing, opening it up to a wider variety of uses, which we will discuss in greater detail later on.

Archival Applications
Now that we have briefly outlined tape’s capabilities, its unique role in closing the storage gap begins to materialize. The first set of applications we’ll discuss is one that is perhaps most traditionally associated with tape—the storage of archival data. This refers to data that is preserved, but is expected to be accessed extremely rarely, such as the aforementioned medical records. In this function, tape is particularly useful when storing sequential data, such as audio or video files, as the head of the tape drive only needs to make one pass to write or read the entire file, minimizing access time. This makes it a great solution for storing audio and video not just from traditional media organizations, but for emerging applications like police body cams, CCTV, surveillance video, drone footage, or any number of applications. Especially in our current climate, being able to turn to archived footage from these sources for later review can help provide empirical evidence to uncover the truth in ambiguous situations.

Capacity aside, tape has a number of other features that make it ideal for archival data storage. Unlike hard disks—which need to spin constantly, even when not in use—tape is static when not being accessed, meaning it is not consuming power nor incurring wear and tear through constant operation. This saves money in the long run by reducing energy costs and minimizing failures. Tape cartridges can also easily be removed from a library and stored at a separate location. LTO tape supports write once, read many (WORM) technology to let users ensure that once data is saved onto a tape, it can’t accidentally be lost by being written over. This ease of use and security, coupled with a lifespan that can maintain data integrity for 30 years (much longer than any alternative besides optical), makes tape the ideal low-cost, reliable data archival solution.

Nearline Applications
As mentioned, in part due to increases in LTO media data density, tape libraries now offer fast enough throughput speeds to expand their range of uses to more nearline applications. Like archival data, nearline data falls under the umbrella of persistent data—that which is stored but accessed infrequently. If we imagine archival data as the least accessed side of the persistent data spectrum, nearline would be at the opposite end, requiring occasional, but not frequent, access.

A great example of a nearline application for a tape library system is as a backup solution for a business’s critical data. In the event of a cyberattack or other catastrophe in which data is lost, a tape backup—which is decoupled from the data source and therefore secure from attack—can be used to quickly restore a large amount of data. The best part is, since you are in physical possession of your own data, you’re safe from extortion by some less-than-scrupulous data backup services, which often charge fees to expedite data recovery. As the storage shortfall grows and tape latency decreases, LTO will step up to fill more of these nearline roles.

Closing the Gap
The tape market looks to be poised for continued growth as it fills the gap between expanding storage needs and the limited supply and prohibitive costs of alternate storage media. By some estimates, about 95 percent of data is never accessed again 90 days after it is recorded. That’s a lot of persistent data! Given these statistics, tape is really the only cost-effective answer to storing the increasingly massive amounts of data we generate every day, but infrequently access. Now let’s close that gap!

If you would like to discuss your storage needs with a Qualstar representative, please get in touch today!

Media Darling: Why Tape Is the Low-Cost Solution to Data Storage (Part II)

Adopting a tape data storage solution can save you money. Here’s how Qualstar is uniquely equipped to save you even more.

How Qualstar Saves You Cash
In our last post, we explained how the inherent qualities of tape data storage can save your business money when compared to storage alternatives like hard drives, optical, and solid state. (If you haven’t seen it yet, we’d recommend reading it first. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you here.) So now, let’s move on to the specific ways that Qualstar and our reliable, simple-to-use LTO tape libraries help our customers attain an even higher return on their investment.

Technical service
Thankfully, the simplicity and reliability of Qualstar libraries mean most issues can be quickly solved by a company’s in-house team. But when you need to call in the big guns, all of Qualstar’s libraries are backed by industry-leading live technical support. Our skilled technicians can diagnosis and fix most problems remotely, maximizing uptime and minimizing headaches for IT teams.

Qualstar’s commitment to using high-quality materials and manufacturing processes means our libraries offer especially long mean time between failures (MTBF). For example, the robot that carries cartridges between slots on the XLS-832700 and XLS-8161100 tape libraries can perform an average of 2 million exchanges before a failure. This reliability means less down time and fewer repairs, keeping backend costs low.

No Slot Licensing Fees
You may have bought a tape library with capacity for hundreds of cartridges…but don’t think that means you can actually use them all. The practice is called slot licensing, and it refers to library owners having to pay extra fees to access additional tape cartridge slots—slots that are already physically present on the library. It’s like having to pay for rooms in a house you’ve already bought! At Qualstar, we never use slot licensing; you always have complete access to all the cartridge slots in your library—just as it should be.

You Control Your Data
Did your system get hit by a ransomware attack, and now you have to restore your data from a cloud backup? Well, you might have to pay a different sort of ransom to get it back in a timely fashion. The ugly secret about many cloud-based backup services is that in the event of a catastrophe, you may have to pay additional fees to expedite the recovery of your data. When not having access to your data means you can’t perform normal business functions, every day means lost revenue—which is why companies will often pony up. However, with a Qualstar tape library, you are in physical possession of your data at all times. This means you can begin recovery as soon as there’s a problem while avoiding unexpected fees.
Having physical possession of your data has other benefits as well. What happens to your information if the cloud company hosting it goes out of business? Or what if they themselves becomes victims of a ransomware attack or other cyberthreat? By possessing your own tape library, you can keep data physically isolated from the internet, safeguarding it from cybercriminals. During a truly catastrophic event when internet service is disrupted for an extended period of time, a tape library will also let you recover while offline.

Software Neutral
Qualstar has the distinction of being one of the few remaining independent tape library manufacturers in the world. This freedom allows us to give our customers the opportunity to use a variety of archival software. We don’t force you to buy or lock you into using any particular application. This can help you not only save on software, but also avoid retraining costs if your workforce is already used to a certain program.

One of the greatest things about Qualstar libraries is their modularity. Not only does this allow simple part replacements in the field, it also means you can easily upgrade your system by adding additional cartridges (more storage), tape drives (more tapes accessed simultaneously), and library expansion modules (more space for cartridges and drives). No need to replace an old system when a new tape format comes out, you can simply upgrade the tape drives to take advantage of the latest LTO breakthroughs.

Crossing the Tape
As you have seen in these two posts, tape is the ultimate low-cost, reliable option for the near-line and offline data storage requirements—and the additional savings offered by Qualstar’s customer-focused products and services further sweeten the deal. If you would like to find out if your business could benefit from a Qualstar tape library system, please get in touch with one of our friendly and knowledgeable sales representatives. And remember, keep checking for more information and news!

Media Darling: Why Tape Is the Low-Cost Solution to Data Storage (Part I)

We show you why tape is the prudent pick for cost-effective storage and how Qualstar makes the deal even sweeter.

No matter how well suited a storage solution is for a given application, the practical consideration of cost will ultimately decide whether or not a business can adopt it. That is why we are devoting this post to one of tape’s most attractive features: its low cost compared to other data storage solutions like hard drives, solid state, and optical. In fact, IT research and analysis firm Enterprise Strategy Group estimates that tape storage has an annual total cost of ownership seven times less than disk-based alternatives. Here, we’ll break down the major sources of savings.

Media Price
Qualstar libraries use the world’s leading magnetic tape storage format, Linear Tape-Open (LTO), which was jointly developed by IBM, HP, and Quantum in 2000. Since then, the standard has been periodically updated to accommodate more storage space and faster throughput, and the LTO Consortium has issued a roadmap for its next four generations.

One of the most readily apparent sources of savings from a tape system comes from a simple comparison of the cost of LTO media versus its alternatives. LTO cartridges are extremely data dense, with the latest generation (LTO-8) offering 12 terabytes of native storage and 30 terabytes compressed. Combine this with their low cost—about $119 for an LTO-8 cartridge—and you get a price per terabyte of about $9.92. A 7200 rpm SATA HDD with the same capacity is about $320, which gives you a price per terabyte of $26.66—nearly three times higher. The latest generation of HDDs attempt to close this gap, but subsequent generations of LTO tape (as outlined by the roadmap) will only sharpen the divide by increasing capacities up to 192 TB (uncompressed) per cartridge with LTO-12.

Power Consumption
The extremely low power consumption of tape libraries when compared to their alternatives (especially hard drives) is one of their largest sources of ongoing savings. While hard disk arrays have faster read/write speeds, it comes at a cost, as the platters inside the hard disks must continue spinning at all times—even when not being accessed. This ends up wasting a tremendous amount of energy, which not only increases its cost of ownership, but also your organization’s carbon footprint.

Tape, on the other hand, only requires power when the library’s drive is writing or accessing data. Once data is written to tape, it can be stored for up to 30 years without requiring any power. The numbers bear this out: According to IBM, hard disk systems use 70 times more energy than tape systems. Eliminating that wasted energy can translate to big savings as well as a significant drop in your company’s C02 emissions.

Life Span
Another inherent cost benefit of tape is its extremely long life span, which beats just about anything out there. Where properly stored, tape can maintain data integrity for up to 30 years. This is especially important for archival applications, as it allows companies to store data for extended periods without incurring the downtime and cost associated with replacing media and transferring your data to it.

We have already discussed the superlative data density of tape and how it contributes to the low cost per terabyte rate of tape, but that density also contributes to another, less obvious source of savings—its smaller physical footprint. Because tape libraries can pack dozens of petabytes into a single unit measuring just a few feet in width and depth, IT teams require less floorspace to store the same amount of data. This allows businesses to avoid having to acquire more space to accommodate the libraries and to utilize the space they save for more productive purposes—both of which contribute positively to their bottom lines.

Final Thoughts
Tape is the ultimate low-cost, reliable option for the near-line and offline data storage requirements. If you would like to find out if your business could benefit from a Qualstar tape library system, please get in touch with one of our friendly and knowledgeable sales representatives.

In our next post, we’ll explore the unique ways beyond the inherent benefits of tape that Qualstar helps your business save money. Check back soon!

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