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Why the world needs magnetic tape

Author : Phil Greenwood, Iron Mountain

02 April 2015

Why magnetic tape makes sound business sense

Magnetic tape was first used to store computer data in 1951. By the mid-‘70s pretty much everyone relied on tape cassettes and cartridges. Then, with the arrival of data storage discs and the cloud, tape was seen as a dated, costly, inflexible, unreliable technology few forward-thinking organisations would dream of using as part of their data storage and protection infrastructure.

However, tape storage is facing a new dawn in a world struggling to get to grips with the impact of big data, environmental pressures, complex IT infrastructures and resource limitations. Investment in the technology has also created new high-performance versions of tape that can store vast amounts of data.

Here are our top four top reasons to celebrate tape:

Bring on the big data
Few aspects of business are unaffected by the surge in data volumes and variety. IT departments need to manage and store all this data efficiently and securely. It’s neither possible nor desirable to store it all on servers on site and not every organisation is ready to embrace the cloud. Time for the secure, cost efficient and low maintenance option. It’s called tape.

Innovation and investment
Anticipating the storage crunch caused by big data, IBM and Fujifilm in May announced a super-dense magnetic tape capable of storing 85.9bn bits of data per square inch – that’s up to 154 terabytes of uncompressed data per tape (one terabyte is about 1,000 GB). This builds on other recent innovations in tape technology, including the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) format and Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which have boosted the format’s storage capability and flexibility.

Tape makes sound business sense
Tape has the lowest total cost of ownership of any major data storage system and is the most energy-efficient. This means that firms can use tape to cost-effectively archive data, on or off site, and focus resources on higher cost storage options for active, business-critical or frequently-used data. With limited resources, most organisations are also building hybrid or tiered storage solutions that make the most of the assets they have, and that includes optimising the use of tape.

It’s legacy-proof
Many IT infrastructures today comprise an assortment of server, software and storage components, with aging legacy systems running alongside the latest technologies. Tape is widely supported and has a mature interface, enhancing the long term compatibility of its stored data.

Recent research suggests that while enterprise-size firms appreciate this, mid-market companies may not yet have adjusted their perception of tape. 

All 10 of the world’s largest banks, all 10 of the world’s largest telecommunications companies and eight of the 10 largest pharmaceutical firms make use of tape storage. However, a recent snapshot of 50 mid-market companies in Europe found tape is used by about half. Those who use tape for data storage have integrated it into efficient and tiered information storage solutions that generally also include on site storage, disc and, increasingly, cloud.

You wouldn’t judge the performance of today’s mobile phones on the basis of one you owned a decade ago – so why do so many firms appear to be doing that for tape? It’s high time we took another look. Our world is powered by information and how and where we store it has become mission-critical. Tape belongs at the heart of that conversation.

+ Phil Greenwood is a director at Iron Mountain

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