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Managing Tape in the Age of Disk

Tape storage, often dubbed a wallflower of IT, remains a fact of life for many storage pros. While disk archiving is undoubtedly on the rise, lots of users aren't ready to relinquish tape's known quantities. Virtualization is still considered a risk, and tape's comparative cost, along with improvements in tape libraries' capacity, security, and integration with disk, make it tough to swing with disk alone.

"A minority of clients -- a very small minority -- are willing to completely forgo tape," says W. Curtis Preston, VP of data protection at GlassHouse Technologies. While there are more folk willing to go tapeless than Preston expected to see at this point in time, he says "more than a couple" clients who've asked him about getting off tape in the last year have backed down on actually doing so.

The reality is that tape, both capitally and operationally, remains less risky in the minds of most users than disk alternatives. At the same time, tape libraries from vendors like HP, IBM, Sun/Storagetek, Quantum, Overland, Tandberg Data, Spectra Logic, and Qualstar are improving in efficiency and reliability. Many suppliers are futureproofing with integrated disk or VTL. (See Tape's Tally Is Up.)

The result is that tape automation continues to be a sizable and stable market. While it may not be quite accurate to speak of a "tape resurgence" -- as IBM's general manager of IBM system storage Andy Monshaw did in June -- it's likely too soon to call its decline. (See Hyperbole on Tape and Tape's Tally Is Up.)

"Look, it moves in ebbs and flows. The tape drive or device market has been in decline for quite some time, but the midrange has been growing," says analyst Robert Amatruda of IDC. While single-tape devices attached to servers is largely a thing of the past, tape libraries attached to a number of servers is thoroughly common.

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