Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Unsung Story of Tape Storage

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Data storage expert Henry Newman talks about the hard reality of tape storage: it wears out. Yet Newman opines that tape is still the best data storage medium.


In August 2006 I wrote an article exposing the fact that, like any device, tape has a life span. As all of you who read this column regularly know, I am a big proponent of tape and archival storage. I believe that given the hard error rate, the very low power usage and low cooling costs, and the lower cost per TB, tape is the best medium for long-term storage.

Like any medium, tape has a life span, and that life span is not just based on the interface becoming old and no longer supported. Some examples of the interface support issue include Fibre Channel 1 Gbit, Fibre Channel 2 Gbit and Fibre Channel 4 Gbit (likely soon), but that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about the tape’s life based the medium itself. Media wears out for a variety of reasons, including things like the stretching of the tape backing. There are many reasons, and the reasons are not the point of the column. The point is: What are the numbers? What are you going to do about it? What is missing from what vendors tell you, and want you to hear and not hear? Media technology wearing out is not limited to just tape media; it is also true of the disk drive. Again, I am not picking on tape! Try taking a consumer SATA drive, run it 7×24 doing head seeks and reading or writing, and do not try to tell me that flash does not have wear issues, either. Vendors address the flash by wear-leveling and adding extra cells. Anything that is electronic or mechanical will wear out. The real question is, what are the characteristics of this wear out, and what can you do to prevent it before the tape goes bad?

The Numbers

First of all, I want to thank the people at Imation for providing this informationand updating the chart from 2006. The information Imation provided includedmany tapes that are no longer in use. I cut the chart down to what I considermodern tapes. What is clear from this chart is that if you read and write tapesvery often, they will exceed what Imation says the tape is guaranteed to –not that it will fail at that point, but when you exceed the expected usage.Note Imation’s data is likely similar to other vendors, but no other vendorswould provide the information publicly.

Read the rest about tape storage at Enterprise Storage Forum.

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