Tape has been pronounced dead more often than I can remember, but it's important to note that it's usually disk vendors making the pronouncement. The reality is that tape is very much alive. When I ask about tape utilization in seminars, an overwhelming majority of attendees indicate they are still using tape. I've also seen several studies recently indicate tapeless environments account for less than 15 percent of the data centers. Tape is back, it really never left, and I believe it may be the time for it to thrive.
For tape to thrive it has to become easier to use. There's probably no easier way to make tape easier to use than to just make it act like a file system. No one had to go to a training class to learn how to use a thumb drive or USB stick. You plugged it in and started copying data to it. A great example of this coming to tape is the release of IBM's Long Term File System (LTFS) which we detailed in our article "What is LTFS?" LTFS allows tape media to be used like an external hard drive or USB stick. Plug the tape in and it shows up as a browsable mount point just like any other external device.
Beyond LTFS, there are companies that are front-ending tape and tape libraries with a disk front-end, automatically moving data between disk and tape as needed. Again, interaction with the tape library is like interacting with a file system. While this is not an entirely new idea, the ease at which the systems can be integrated has improved significantly.
The Active Archive Alliance is a good example of the industry trying to unite the three components needed for tape to be leveraged more often as part of an organization's overall storage strategy. For most data centers, tape is something you deal with at the end of the day. For tape to be more relevant, it has to be used more interactively throughout the day. These systems do that.
Another complaint about tape has been that it's hard to utilize all of its available performance and capacity. In my next entry, we'll examine some of the changes in the environment that make the raw capacity and performance of tape more relevant to more data centers.George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, ... View Full Bio