LTO6, tape backup and the format that refuses to die

A tape with a happy face

Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hard drive capacity increases are almost exactly inversely proportional to the cost per terabyte. Unsurprising then that analysts have been predicting the death of tape archives for several years now.

But still tape lives on, with LTO6 (and older) drives relatively common in many data centres across the world. Indeed some industries, like post production, have seen a surge in demand for new drives.

Why does tape keep selling?

By now tape technology should have followed floppy disks and optical media into the trash can of history. It is slow, cumbersome and offers finite capacity – well behind the capabilities of magnetic and flash storage.

But decades of reliable data archiving has helped tape establish itself as the gold standard for building a low cost, off-site data repository. Many “mature” CTOs still choose to specify tape archives because their experience has proven the technology to be reliable.

And as long as the LTO format is developed, tape fans will continue to buy it.

Repair or replace?

The truth is that the LTO format does the job of basic data retention very well. So as the first LTO7 tape drives reach end of warranty, CTOs have the choice of completing a refresh, or arranging to have the unit maintained under a third party service agreement.

The good news is that LTO drives can be repaired and refurbished, offering an effective option for containing hardware maintenance costs. CTOs can then stick with their trusted tape archiving systems, even when vendors do finally pull the plug on the LTO format.

Logically, LTO7 and tape technology should already be dead – if not replaced with entirely new disk-based archives, then with redeployed post warranty systems at least. But trusted hardware can be difficult to find, so CTOs will stick with what they know on the grounds of risk reduction.

Which means that tapes will be a common sight in data centres for some time to come.

Next steps

For more help and advice on protecting your LTO tape assets, please get in touch.