Is Tape Still Relevant for SMBs?

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I had the opportunity to speak with two business unit managers from Tandberg Data last week about the benefits of tape. Tandberg Data came on my radar recently due to the release of its eight-disk RDX QuikStation that can be deployed either as individual iSCSI targets or as an emulated tape autoloader or library. The company says the RDX QuikStation is especially suited for SMBs due to its versatile deployment options and affordability.

Curious about the role of tape in the current cloud-centric landscape, I wanted to learn whether the venerable, decades-old technology is still relevant to businesses, specifically SMBs. I spoke with Ted Oade and Simon Anderson from Tandberg Data, who gave me the low-down on why tape is still relevant and practical in an SMB today.

Tape is Still Relevant Today

Rather than perform a static and ultimately meaningless comparison to determine the "best" storage technology, Oade instead offered the suggestion that "Every storage technology has its strength and weaknesses."

Unlike fixed storage, a tape drive has the advantage of "removability" for off-site archival of data. Its portability, combined with durability of up to 30 years, makes tape an unbeatable medium for rugged, portable storage. And in spite of huge advances in the storage densities of hard disk drives, tape still yields the lowest storage cost today. And with the advantages of tape still as valid today as they were 10 years ago, I think it is fair to conclude that tape has yet to lose its relevance.

Tape and the SMB

When quizzed on the role of tape technology in a small- and mid-sized business environment, Anderson started off by observing how the primary role of tape has changed. Current use of tape includes fulfilling compliance requirements that mandate the use of off-site backups, for example. The fact that a tape cartridge can be taken offline after a successful backup does offer an intriguing advantage in today's hyper-networked world; data archived to a tape cartridge is correspondingly less prone to inadvertent data corruption as well as outright sabotage.

In a nutshell: Tape technology offers a convenient and affordable last line of defense for data backup in SMBs. SMBs that cannot afford the requisite IT staffers, or are more comfortable with a disk-based environment can also consider hybrid solutions such as the Tandberg Data's own RDX QuikStation. As outlined previously, the QuikStation can be configured to function either as a disk array or a virtual tape library in tandem with existing tape backup software.

The Competition from Cloud-based Storage

There are many countries where local laws might dictate that data must be stored within the country of origin, a requirement that might not be possible within a cloud environment. In addition, businesses that need to archive large volumes of data will find cloud-based storage to be unsuitable. Rather than being replaced by cloud-based storage, there are many scenarios where tape still has an important role to play.

Anderson also offered a nugget of information that might surprise some: The largest consumer of tape in the world today is Google, which consumes some 50,000 LTO (Linear Tape-Open) tape cartridges every quarter.

So while the total market for tape has "flattened," it certainly isn't declining at the rate it once was, according to Tandberg Data. Indeed, the company says its own tape business actually experienced growth of some 30 percent. In closing, Oade said, "The broader message is that tape is very much alive and used in the corporate environment."