Tape: Canceled Due to Lack of Interest?

Tape drives could benefit by having a tape evangelist

George Crump

November 19, 2008

3 Min Read
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1:15 PM -- The death of tape has been predicted for a long time now, and, while I dont want to pile on, I am concerned. But it may not be technology that kills tape; it may just be canceled due to lack of interest.

To be clear, I still think tape has a role, either as a very long archive storage area or certainly as a component in the backup process. My concern is: What manufacturer is going to take tape to the next level?

At a drive-level, things appear to be OK. The Linear Tape Open (LTO) consortium of Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Quantum Corp. (NYSE: QTM), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) will continue to advance LTO technology along its roadmap. That said, I think that tape drives could benefit by having a tape evangelist. Someone to make bold statements like "You can't afford to power disk drives for the next 50 years -- you have to use tape, and here is how we are going to make tape even more palatable." While I might very well argue with that person, the case at least needs to be made.

The challenge is the three members of the LTO consortium are going to be limited in their advocacy of the technology. In varying degrees, all three companies may be more interested in selling disk than tape. They have their wings clipped and mouths muzzled and can't make bold statements like the above. IBM could be the exception here: Because of its heritage it seems to get tape better than the rest; it makes its own technology outside of the LTO family; and it has a vested interest in tape's success.

When you start looking at the tape library community, things get ugly. Real ugly. Most of the major providers of tape libraries are having financial struggles and are racing out of the tape solutions market to the disk solutions market as fast as they possibly can. Sure, there is the occasional new library release that comes out, mostly to support faster drives, but it is rare to see real innovation.Spectra Logic Corp. seems to be the exception to the rule here. This private company based in Boulder, Colo., has been quietly and profitably making tape libraries for almost 30 years. While they have entered into the disk market, they continue to announce new libraries, and the changes are more than incremental. They are innovative, with changes to the way tapes are stored in the library and the way the library is managed.

Tape backup software vendors are guilty, too. Many now focus more on what they do to work with disk systems than on what they are doing to improve the tape experience. Even some VTL solutions have lost the move to tape capability, or their methods for doing so are so cumbersome that you would rather not bother. Most now require that you use the backup server to move data to tape, which has its pros and cons and is worth discussing in another entry.

The irony in all this is that in the data center -- and not just the large ones -- tape is not going away. It is still used and counted on in a big way. If someone could nail the integration among tape libraries, backup software, and disk they could really have something. Of course, they would also have to tell someone about it. Any new innovation in tape is going to risk being drowned out by me and all the other guys hyping disk.

— George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland , which provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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