What’s the world’s best kept $1 billion secret? And how can you get a piece of it?
Imagine just for a second you found a billion dollars that nobody owned. What would you do?
I think most people would take it. Or at least as much as they could carry!
Now I admit the chances of literally finding a billion dollars just lying around are pretty small. But that doesn’t mean that other, more real, opportunities don’t exist.
Hence the title of this article. Tape is like a best kept secret, a lost treasure, X marks the spot etc. All combined, with hardware, media and services, the global tape market exceeds a billion dollars in value. That makes it a great opportunity for you to generate additional revenue and profit from customers who are definitely looking to buy tape storage.
And the great news is that you don't need to dodge a giant boulder or leap over snakes to find it!
Space. The final (storage) frontier
So, why is it, in this era of Hybrid IT, that we still see so many benefits from using one of the most familiar of all storage categories?
People say tape is making a comeback but in all honesty, it never went away. Everyone knows that data is growing exponentially and it's actual customer need that is propelling the LTO tape business today.
Over the last five years, data from the industry clearly shows that demand for tape capacity, expressed in terms of new cartridge shipments, is increasing.
Put simply, the world is buying more tape than ever.
Data growth isn't really a phenomenon. It's a matter of fact for everyone in this room. For everyone in society. By 2025, IDC estimates our digital universe will have reached 163 Zettabytes in size. That's 163 trillion gigabytes.
But the fact that our world increasingly exists purely in bits and bytes presents challenges for the storage industry, challenges of physics as well as technology.
Because, here’s the thing. Data isn’t gas! It takes up space.
Regardless of platform, it has to be stored on something. The cloud isn't a cloud. It's a lot of hardware joined together by wires and controlled by software. It's very clever technology. But it's still physical. It still has presence.
And it's that presence that creates a set of practical challenges for today's storage technologies.
Flash provides high performance data protection. It does things that tape devices weren’t designed for. But it isn’t economical or durable enough for large scale archiving spanning decades.
And hard disks are approaching the superparamagnetic limit of how small you can make the magnetic particles coating the disk.
To magnetically record more data in a given area, you need to make the space occupied by each bit smaller. That means you need smaller magnetic particles with which to coat the disk.
The problem is that it becomes more challenging to reduce the size of the particles without compromising their ability to maintain a magnetic state in a stable way. They begin to randomly flip their polarity which leads to data corruption. The point at which particles become too small to be viable is known as the superparamagnetic limit. And hard disk manufacturers have reached it.
According to INSIC projections, by 2025 we may see 40 TB HDDs, which is only a 15% CAGR in areal density from today’s products.
However ‘limitless’ the cloud may appear, any cloud-based storage system will inevitably have to confront the reality that scaling pools of hard drives in the zettabyte era will need colossal quantities of devices, energy, floorspace and resource. Did you see the news about the UN climate change report? None of those things come without strings attached. The world's data centres already use more power than Spain.
Tape on the other hand, still has plenty of headroom. LTO-12 is targeting 480 TB per cartridge in the same time frame. That will be around 33% CAGR in areal density about double the projection for disk drives. Half a petabyte in your hand for a couple of hundred dollars.
Back in 2014 before they understood, perhaps, the challenge posed by the superparamagnetic limit, HDD vendors promised 100 TB disks around about now. Instead, we're only at 14 TB. But tape R&D teams have already demonstrated 330 TB storage prototypes, with plenty of scope to improve this areal density still further. So reaching the levels required for LTO-12 is a credible and achievable target.
It's important to realise that every disk-based array or object storage server will be governed by the superparamagnetic limit. So for storing trillions of gigabytes of unstructured data in the very near future, tape is the ideal, cost-effective long term solution.
It has the support of leading vendors, it requires almost no energy at rest, it has a reliable roadmap and it’s already being used by millions of businesses.
Monetisation is the buzzword in archiving but that still doesn't invalidate tape. Pair a tape library with a high-performance array and you have the best of both worlds. High speed accessibility for monetisation and analysing data, along with the supreme TCO for long term storage that only tape delivers. There's even an acronym for it: FLAPE – flash with tape.
It's all about placing data in the right tier at the right time in a way that is invisible and transparent to users. There is no reason why an active archiving solution based upon tape needs to be a bottleneck. On the contrary, streaming data from a tape library will generally be much faster than retrieving the data from the cloud.
Above the clouds
All of us have flown through clouds in an aeroplane. And one thing we all know is that although they seem light and fluffy, it can be a little bumpy up there.
Cloud storage looks cheap but it's important to factor in the inevitable retrieval charges into your TCO calculations. In years to come petabyte archives will not be uncommon. Retrieving just a small percentage of multi-petabyte data from a cloud archive could be very expensive based on current pricing trends.
A very recent analysis from the analysts, ESG, calculated that over a ten year period, users can expect to see 66% lower TCO using LTO-8 compared to a cloud-based archive, taking into account a comprehensive analysis of all the cost variables.
Please understand, I’m not saying “don’t use the cloud” or that “cloud has no place”. What I am saying is analyse your storage requirements and use the right tier for the right purpose.
By all means put backups in the cloud using a combination like HPE StoreOnce and CloudBank. It makes perfect sense to increase your RPO by using the cloud to store secondary copies of critical data that might be needed for relatively near-term data protection purposes. But once you are trying to manage petabytes of infrequently accessed, but essential, unstructured data in a time frame spanning years and decades, it makes more sense to offload the majority to tape and process only what you need using a faster or more accessible tier. Cloud and tape can co-exist and should be a key part of your data protection strategy. But nothing, yet “out-tapes” tape.
The more IT changes, the more tape stays the same
That brings me on to my final point: cyber security. A ransomware attack is now a question of ‘if’, not ‘when’ it strikes your organisation. By utilising tape, you can create an air gap to ensure you have a clean copy of your data. Malware can’t infect data it cannot access.
As hackers become more sophisticated, they are going after backup data held at rest, including in the cloud because obviously they want to stop companies from having an escape route. Tape really is a last line of defence. It's not 100% foolproof - nothing is - but an AES-256 encrypted LTO cartridge in a converted nuclear bunker is a lot more secure than an S3 bucket accidentally set to be public. Or a critical database that is being erased by a disgruntled employee. Or a payment system that has been corrupted by hackers.
And by having the majority of your cold data offline and in one safe and secure place, you aren’t having to deal with all the cloud vendor management complexity, SLAs or additional charges if...no, when....you need to recover that data. Remember, it may look like you have one namespace, but the data may physically be in different places and under the care of different suppliers.
In the end, guardians of data are in the peace of mind, sleeping soundly at night business. And that’s why I believe tape storage will continue to have a key role to play in the years ahead, even as we shift to a Hybrid Cloud and everything-as-a-service consumption model.
The more IT changes, the more tape stays the same. And that is no bad thing.