Wait a moment — have I stepped into a time machine? We all know that magnetic tape is so….yesterday. Isn’t all storage these days on solid-state or hard-disk drive (HDD) memory?
The answer is yes, it is; and no, it isn’t. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “Companies Look to an Old Technology to Protect Against New Threats” noted that companies are once again storing data on tape, just in case. This isn’t just an anecdotal trend, either: there are some solid numbers showing increases in shipments of tape units, as well as the amount of data being stored on tape.
While tape is not as easy-access as solid-state or HDD memory, that attribute is also one of its virtues, as it functions as a robust, slower-time, recovery mechanism should the “worst” happen. Further, since the tape is not “on line,” it is much less accessible to hackers. The Wall Street Journal article notes that “the federal government, financial-services firms, health insurers and other regulated industries still keep tape as a backup to digital records. Now a range of other companies are returning to tape as hackers get smarter about penetrating defenses.”
If you think of tape in terms of those old-fashioned large reel-to-reel units, those are long gone, except for archival reels which may be lucky to find a playback deck. The tape industry standardized on easy-to-handle cartridges which can be retrieved and returned via robotic arms, Figure 1, often configured in large arrays of tape-drive “farms.” There are even standards which define form factor, formats, and more, assisted by the Tape Storage Council, a collaborative industry group founded in 2012 to promote the use and technology innovations occurring within the tape-storage industry.
This LTO-7 tape drive from Quantum Corp. features backup-and-restore performance at speeds up to 750 MB/sec (2.7 TB/hr) and can support 15TB of data on each cartridge (Source: Quantum Corp.)