Pushing Tape Boundaries Even Further

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Seeing how it's nearly impossible to write about tape-based storage without getting into the debate over its ultimate future, let's get that out of the way right up front: I think tape storage will be around for quite a while longer even as disk and solid-state drives make greater inroads into the various storage tiers.

Good. Now that that's over with, let's take a look at what's happening out there.

The main tape system vendors certainly show no signs of sending the technology out to pasture. Oracle just came out with a revamped StorageTek portfolio that expands the system to 100,000 tape slots, each capable of supporting the new 1.5-TB LTO-5 drive for a whopping 150 PB maximum capacity. The system delivers throughput of 140 Mbps and is augmented by Oracle backup and archive management systems said to help cut overall storage costs some 70 percent. The new drives also feature enhanced energy management capabilities that cut idle power consumption nearly in half.

At Overland Storage, the LTO-5 format is expanding the capacity of the NEO architecture to 3 PB, with added flourishes like 24 TB per hour transfer and a new suite of high-availability features aimed at mission-critical data. The NEO 8000e includes a self-monitoring module that provides predictive failure notification and fault isolation, and has a partitioning feature that can be used to create virtual libraries for use with multiple interfaces and backup software systems.

And if recent market research is any indication, it looks like interest in tape storage is on the upswing. A survey by the Linear Tape-Open Program, backed by HP, IBM and Quantum, reports that tape expansion plans are now in place at 37 percent of surveyed enterprises, up from 24 percent in 2006. At the same time, the percent of tape-only users who plan to eliminate or decrease the use of tape is falling.

With so much activity in the offing, is it finally time to open up to the possibility of tiered tape environments, asks Henry Newman, CTO of Instrumentals Inc. All that would be needed, he says, is broader support for varied enterprise tape drives, so that IBM tapes could run in Oracle libraries and vice versa. Open source solutions like LTO are a good start, but they lack the cartridge and drive construction, error-correction and other features that enterprises depend on.

Tape storage may not generate the buzz that it used to, but the lack of headlines is misleading. There is still plenty of action surrounding tape, and more reason than ever to do your homework before deciding on a course of action.