The Archive Disk Technology You Didn’t See Coming

Tape deck with tape spooling onto it

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019

For many years, it has been assumed that hard disk drives will succeed magnetic tape as the medium of choice for archive data storage. Microsoft’s decision to retire their IBM tape libraries was seen to be the start of a wider industry move towards disk-based arrays.

But magnetic disk capacity has failed to keep pace with storage demands. The largest 14TB hard disks are tiny in comparison to the 30TB compressed capacity of LTO-8 tapes. The only advantage offered by disk is the speed of the medium– backup and recovery is much quicker. 

Increasing the speed of tape

Now it appears that tape archives may actually outlive magnetic disk technology thanks to the invention of “flape.” As you can probably tell from the unusual name, flape combines high speed flash with high density tape to create an all-new hybrid storage option. 

Flape does not exist as a storage medium in isolation. Instead, flash drives and tape archives are combined using software– not unlike virtual storage. The management application monitors usage and moves data to the most appropriate medium automatically– flash for regularly used information that needs to be accessed quickly, or tape for data that is best retained for cold-storage purposes.

Flape deployments remain rare at present, but that could quickly changeif the technology proves itself. Back in 2014, Wikibon research found that flash and tape is the best combination for enterprise data storage, and flape builds on that finding.

Not just for archiving

Hard drive capacities continue to grow. Slowly. Tape density on the other hand is rocketing. Scientists have already demonstrated prototype cartridges of holding 330TB of uncompressed data for instance, while the LTO roadmap estimates capacity of 480TB when it is eventually released. 

The combination of capacity and speed means that flape could conceivably be deployed for line-of-business operations, too. Some statements made by IBM officials suggest that they see potential for the technology to underpin big data programs in future. But again, it remains to be seen how flape matures. 

In the meantime, your post-warranty hard drives are still ideal for cold storage and data archiving purposes. To learn more about support and maintenance for these older systems, please get in touch.

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