News Storage & Backup

Technology breakthroughs propel Tape to new geographies

The Tape Storage Council, which includes representatives of BDT, Frontier BV, FUJIFILM, GazillaByte, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Imagine Products, Integra, Iron Mountain, NCE Computer Group, Oracle, Overland Storage, Qualstar, Quantum, REB Storage Systems, Spectra Logic, StrongBox Data Solutions, Tandberg Data, Turtle and XpresspaX has issued the following memo to highlight the current trends, usages and technology innovations occurring within the tape storage industry.

Tape expanded its reach in 2016 effectively addressing many data intensive markets including cloud, entertainment, hyperscale data centers, High Performance Computing (HPC) and the Internet along with large-scale data intensive applications such as big data, backup, recovery, long-term archive, disaster recovery, government compliance, while positioning for the unknown appetite of the IoT. The tape industry has been fueled by a decade of strong technological development and continues to play a major role for its traditional backup and disaster recovery services in addition to effectively addressing many new large-scale storage requirements. Demand for tape is being fueled by unrelenting data growth, significant technological advancements, tape’s highly favorable economics, low energy requirements, and the growing regulatory and business requirements to maintain “access to data forever.” Steady improvements have made tape technology the most reliable storage medium available, now surpassing the reliability of HDDs by three orders of magnitude. Disk technology has been advancing, but tape’s progress over the last ten years has been even greater.

Continued development and investment in tape library, drive, media and data management software has effectively addressed the relentless demand for improved reliability, higher capacity, better power efficiency, ease of use and the lowest cost per GB and TCO of any storage solution. Below is a summary of tape’s value proposition followed by key metrics for each:

  • Tape drives have a BER (Bit Error Rate) of 1×1019 bits read, the highest reliability level of any storage device surpassing HDDs at 1×1016 by three orders of magnitude.
  • Tape cartridge capacity is on an unprecedented trajectory with areal density projected to grow twice as fast as HDDs for the foreseeable future.
  • Tape data rates are expected to be as much as five times faster than HDDs by 2025.
  • Tape has a media life exceeding 30 years, longer than any other data center digital storage solution.
  • Energy consumption for tape is significantly less than HDDs with some studies showing tape energy consumption less than two percent of HDDs for the equivalent amount of storage.
  • For archiving, TCO studies indicate today’s disk based storage solutions are at least six times more costly per terabyte stored than solutions based on tape libraries.
  • Tape’s functionality and ease of use is enhanced with LTFS software and widespread HSM support.

In 4Q 2016 LTO capacity shipments totaled nearly 27 exabytes (compressed), making it the highest capacity shipped quarter in LTO history. Enterprise tape libraries now scale beyond one exabyte making tape the first exascale storage solution. HPC and Hyperscale data centers are racing towards exascale storage requirements.

Capacity and Data Rate. Tape capacities and data rates are growing faster than other storage technologies. LTO-8 plans to deliver 12.8 TB native capacity and the next enterprise drives from IBM are aiming for native capacities of 15 TB and higher. Tape capacities also benefit from a 2.5x compression boost as most of the data written to tape is compressed whereas most data written to HDDs is not compressed. When comparing native data rates, LTO-7 transfers data at 300 MB/sec and the TS1150 at 360 MB/sec which is significantly faster than the typical 7,200 RPM HDD at 160 MB/sec. Tape cartridge capacities and data transfer speeds are expected to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future with no fundamental technology limitations in sight.

Media Life. Media life refers to durability and is often confused with tape reliability. Manufacturer’s specifications indicate that today’s enterprise and LTO tape media has a life span of 30 years or more while a tape drive is typically deployed 7 to 10 years before replacement. By comparison, a standard disk drive is typically operational from 3 to 5 years before replacement. In addition, LTO tape drives can typically read the current version and the two prior LTO versions to minimize the conversion effort.

Energy Consumption. The world’s data centers now consume almost as much energy as the country of Spain and consume just over 2% of the total US electrical output. Best practices for using less energy in the data center directly focus on the two highest areas of consumption – servers and disk storage. It is highly cost- effective to move lower activity data from higher energy consuming HDDs to more energy efficient tape systems. Tape cartridges spend most of their life in a library slot or on a shelf and consume no energy when not mounted in a tape drive. As capacity demands increase, tape capacity can be added without adding more drives. This not the case with HDDs where each capacity increase requires another drive. Energy costs for tape capacity are typically less than 5% of the equivalent amount of disk capacity.

Tape Roadmaps. The LTO Program Technology Provider Companies (HPE, IBM and Quantum) have identified LTO generation 10 with a compressed capacity of 120 TB. See LTO Ultrium roadmap. The INSIC 2015-2025 International Magnetic Tape Storage Roadmap indicates the current areal density scaling rate of HDD of about 16% CAGR and tape at 33% CAGR indicating the current cost advantage of tape systems over HDDs will grow even wider in the future.

Several tape providers were assigned patents in 2016. These patents are not announcements, but represent potentially significant innovations for higher performance, reduced times to first byte of data, and increased reliability and availability advancements. As tape capacity increases, tape performance needs to increase.

Cost and TCO Studies. Tape’s wide and sustainable cost per gigabyte and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) advantage compared with other storage mediums makes it the most cost-effective technology for long-term data retention. Keep in mind that tape capacity can scale without adding more drives – this not the case with HDDs where each capacity increase requires another drive and quickly becomes costlier than tape as capacity demand increases. Some excellent TCO studies are publicly available and show the TCO for HDDs is approximately six times higher than the equivalent capacity tape systems. See The Clipper Group TCO Analysis.

LTFS Software. LTFS (Linear Tape File System) enables direct, intuitive and graphical access to data stored in LTO tape drives and libraries. As a testimony to the growing use of LTFS, a total of 35 companies are now LTFS implementers. In addition, SNIA’s Linear Tape File System (LTFS) Technical Work Group is focusing technical efforts on the development of an architecture that is related to the “on-tape” format for LTFS. See SNIA Linear Tape File System (LTFS) Format is Now an ISO/IEC Standard.

New Use Cases and Innovative Solutions Bring Tape into the Game

Active Archives. Tape’s favorable economics are fueling increased interest in Active Archive solutions. An active archive is a combined solution of open systems software, disk, and tape hardware that gives users an automated means to store and manage all their data using one or more archive technologies (HDDs, tape, and cloud storage). The active archive greatly improves tape access time by serving as a cache buffer for a tape library. The active archive enables a high percentage of accesses to the tape subsystem to be satisfied from HDDs (cache hit ratio) avoiding physical tape access and making it well suited for higher performance applications in addition to large capacity and archive applications.

Tape as NAS Emerges. The innovative Tape as NAS solution has gained traction and integrates an LTO tape library with a front-end NAS and LTFS to deliver a higher performance, scalable archive solution. A tape library as NAS enables users to leverage familiar file system tools, and even drag and drop files directly to and from a tape cartridge, just like a disk-based NAS. Examples include:

  • StrongBox Data Solutions
  • Fujifilm Dternity
  • HPE StoreEver Archive Manager Solutions
  • IBM Spectrum Archive
  • Oracle HSM
  • Overland NEO Agility LTFS Archive Appliance
  • Qstar Archive Manager
  • Quantum Scalar LTFS and Artico
  • Spectra Logic BlackPearl

Storage Tiering and HSM Fully Embraces Tape. The increasingly popular tiered storage cost-reduction concept now fully embraces the tape storage tier. Storage tiering uses standard HSM software functionality enabling the storage administrator to define policies for data migration and retention to control the movement of petabytes of data and potentially billions of files from more expensive HDD storage devices to less-expensive tape storage. The greatest cost benefit reductions from tiered storage are achieved when tape is used in conjunction with HDDs.

HPC Embracing HPSS and Tape. HPSS (High Performance Storage System) software is widely used in the HPC market providing highly flexible and scalable hierarchical storage management functionality that optimizes large-scale storage resources by keeping recently used data on disk and less recently used data on cost- effective tape. In addition, HPSS enables RAIT effectively multiplying the data rate and improving the availability of tape subsystems.

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