Tape is Not Dead, and Why I Finally Bought a Tape Library

Backup tapesBeing the “Cloud Backup Guy” I’ve made a living off replacing tape. Tape is that legacy media right? It’s true that for most small to medium businesses, tape is hard to manage, expensive to rotate offsite, and has virtually been replaced by disk-to-disk (or disk-to-disk-to-cloud) technologies. However, I am finally willing to say tape definitely has it’s place.

Related article: Is Tape Dead?

Given that I have been so anti-tape for many years, I thought it was news to share when I finally decided that tape had it’s place. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had nearly 30 years of IT consulting experience. In the old days I used nothing but tape as it was the only real option for data protection. I’ve also had my share of bad experiences with tape (mostly the old 4mm and 8mm drives and tapes). I hated the stuff and never wanted to rely on it. Like many seasoned IT professionals of the past, many of us had nightmares to tell about tape backup. When I got into the Cloud Backup business, the passion I had for disliking tape really helped me convince folks not to use it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think for most SMB’s tape is dead. However, as your data volume grows, and I am talking 50TB+ of data, you can not ignore the efficiency and cost effectiveness of good old tape. Tape has also come a long, long way over the years. Gone are the days of 4mm and 8mm DAT tapes.  LTO, the clear tape standard for the modern era, boasts LTO-7, now with a native capacity of 6TB+ (15TB compressed) per tape cartridge. LTO offers a reliable and cost effective method to store huge quantities of data at a much lower cost than disk storage technology.

What brought about this decision to finally embrace tape? Backup Blue Marker

The decision to choose tape became apparent as we were gobbling up more and more disk space for cloud backups. Our growth rate has been significant and trying to keep up with backup growth meant buying more and more disk. It’s not just the cost of disk we had to buy, but the rack space, the power, cooling, and other costs associated with hundreds of spinning disks, plus the cost of replicating the data to another data center with more spinning disks!  A significant segment of our backup storage was consumed by long-term archival storage of older data that continued to grow rapidly as data ages.

Related: Archiving – Align the value of your data with the cost to protect it

Our cloud backup solution allows tiering of the data so that older, less frequently used data could be pushed to longer-term archival storage. Once I faced the decision to have to buy even more disk versus the cost of a tape solution to store the ever growing mountain of archive data, it became a no-brainer. Tape was the clear winner in that type of scenario.

Allow me to stress that I am not a proponent of tape except for all but the largest of companies or others who required long-term archive of a large amount of data. It still introduces manual labor to swap and store tapes, take them offsite, etc. For near and medium term data, we still keep everything stored on disk for quick and easy access. However, for the long-term archival data, we are using tape and love the stuff. The nice thing is that our customers still don’t have to worry about using tape as we manage everything for them.

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