Continuing Merits of Tape Storage for Petabyte Data

Obsolescence is real, and it’s an unavoidable reality for nearly all type of technology eventually. Even what is especially practical today will likely one day become useless, and as it has often been said ‘you can’t stop progress.’ When it comes to the digital world and the ever-greater demands we have for data storage, the way the Cloud has started physical storage down the road to obsolescence is definitely a good thing, and especially considering that physical data storage comes with a whole whack of costs that go profoundly beyond what it costs to lease the space.

The migration from tape storage to cloud has been underway for the better part of 2 decades now, and here at 4GoodHosting we are like any good Canadian web hosting provider in that we know all about the pros and cons of data storage means given the nature of what we do for our customers and the fact that we have 2 major data centers of our own in both Vancouver and Toronto. Cloud storage is the way of the future, and all things considered it 100% is a better choice for data storage.

The merits of tape storage for certain types of data continue to exist, however, and in particular it has a lot going for it when it comes to storing petabyte data. If you don’t know what that is, we can explain. You almost certainly know what a gigabyte is, and how there’s 1000 of them in a terabyte. Well, a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes. So needless to say we’re talking about a very large amount of data, but what is that makes tape storage preferable in some instances with this data? Is it just the sheer size of it that is the primary factor?

This is what we’ll look at with the week’s entry, and why the use of tape storage resists going entirely extinct.

Slow to Dwindle

Here in late 2021 only 4% still use tape as their only backup method, and all the while the use of cloud and online backups has gone up to 51%. It is estimated that 15% use a combination of disk and tape. It’s easy to list out what is inferior about tape storage; it is difficult and slow to eliminate completely due to the years of historic backups needing to be kept. Smaller businesses are the ones that can often get away from it freely and switch to a new method without much hassle.

For larger firms, however, and those with compliance requirements it is still quite common to need to retain tape storage. Many times this can be because of regulations pertaining to the operation of the business. Some companies don’t like what transferring costs and manpower required to manage two backup methods while older retentions expire is going to entail, and this has them sticking with tape storage too.

Cost considerations are definitely a big drawback to making a wholesale switch, and that’s because tapes can be very expensive. Let’s consider when cloud backup services were introduced how the high cost of disk storage and bandwidth made the service prohibitively expensive. With greater incorporation has come lower costs and that in turn has made cloud storage even more appealing.

Demand = Supply = Lower Costs


Another reason is that tapes are incredibly inexpensive. When cloud backup services were introduced, the high cost of disk storage and bandwidth made the service too expensive for most. As storage and bandwidth costs have plummeted, online or cloud backup has become increasingly accessible. Tape storage becoming more and more archaic and less and less in use means the cost of it hasn’t gone down at all.

Even if tape is still less expensive (and it is), the benefits of automation, control and reliability make cloud backups less pricey in the long run along with offering obvious peace of mind with knowing data isn’t stored in a physical data center that will have risk factors the cloud doesn’t. Smaller organizations that still have extensive data storage needs for multiple petabytes of data will find that the cost different difference between tape and the Cloud becomes quite significant.

Physical Air Gap

Another plus for tape backups is that they offer the benefit of being physically separate and offline from the systems being protected. In many ways this is kind of like reverting to an older, offline technology to thwart anyone with malicious plans who isn’t familiar with that technology. There are methods to logically ‘air-gap’ and separate cloud backups from your production environment, but they don’t have that reassuring nature that some people like when they’re able to have a tangible version of something.

All in all, though, the idea of relying on a degradable magnetic storage medium isn’t wise for most people and the primary reason they will want to upgrade to a more modern solutions is for automation and reliability. Keep in mind as well that tape backups are a very manual process. They need to be loaded, collected, and transported to off-site storage location for data storage.

Slow but Sure Shift

The industry consensus is that tapes will not stop being used any time soon. Tape storage is expected to continue to be the lowest cost storage option for the foreseeable future, and it is true that tape sales to hyperscale data libraries does continue with the same numbers as have been seen over the last decade and beyond.

With more data moving to the cloud all the time, cloud providers are going to need to offer even more competitive low-cost storage. The lowest cost archive tiers of storage offered by all the major cloud providers use some amount of tape storage, even if you’d guess they don’t. For data storage in the petabytes, there’s still a lot to be said for it.

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