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Back to the future: why tape still has a role in business continuity

Peter Faulhaber, President and CEO, FUJIFILM Recording Media USA, Inc. and Chairman of The Active Archive Alliance, explains why tape shouldn’t be considered as an outdated technology.

I’ve become accustomed to odd looks and lots of questions when I meet new people and tell them I’m in the data tape business. “Really? Tape? In 2020?” is a common response.

I can forgive some people - those who last touched a consumer VHS tape or audiocassette in the late 90s or early 2000s. I’ve come to really enjoy expanding their perspective, though, when I tell them that tape is a major workhorse in the cloud and that most of the household-name technology and Internet companies are tape users. Business continuity, including several data protection applications, is a big part of the reason why, along with tape’s low total cost of ownership and low energy consumption. I think we can all agree that economics and preserving the environment is key to continuity in its own right.

Information is currency in the Zettabye Age

The worldwide datasphere is currently around 35 Zettabytes (that’s 35 billion Terabytes) and expected to be 175 ZB by 2025 - an estimated annual compound growth rate of 30 percent.  The odds are good you’re seeing a similar rate of data explosion in your own business. Everything today is born digital, not just ‘structured’ data like databases but ‘unstructured’ data such as spreadsheets, documents, presentations, video, audio and photographs. Add to that the appliances and devices in the Internet of Things - smart vehicles, smart planes, smart phones, smart homes, factories and cities. Then add to the mix artificial intelligence, machine learning, ecommerce, email, social media, gaming, surveillance, VR, mobile and more – you can see the path we’re on.

We keep all this data around for years and sometimes decades because it is potentially valuable enough to justify archiving or keeping online in an active archive.  Whether your business relies on archival video footage or photos, harvests data for sale to outside parties or uses information for internal streamlining, strategy or planning, it’s become impossible to even imagine a modern business without data that is increasing in value.

Today, nearly all data is managed throughout its lifecycle using three core storage technologies: Flash, HDD (hard disk drives), and tape. I know some of you are thinking - “but what about the cloud?” The truth is that the cloud is more of a service delivery model than a storage technology, leveraging global connectivity to get those core technologies of flash, HDD and tape working in unison, seamlessly and invisibly behind the scenes.

These core technologies don’t compete per se, because each has its role in the data storage workflow and lifecycle. Flash provides the fastest access times, making it the choice for data that needs frequent, instant access. The tradeoff is its higher price per TB. HDD is less expensive with the tradeoff being slower speeds than flash and intensive energy use. Tape is by far the least expensive of the three, requiring essentially zero power when idle in a tape library or in an archival vault, making it ideal for long term data storage. Throw in the best reliability of any storage medium and the longest archival life and you have a strong case for business continuity.

The continuity case for tape

So. Back to the value of that data. For many businesses, and maybe yours, information may very well be the most valuable asset. By its nature, accumulated data is accumulated value. And where there’s value, there’s always somebody looking to exploit or steal it.

Cybercrime is on the rise and the impacts are sobering. In the first three quarters of 2019, 7.2 billion malware attacks were launched, as well as 151.9 million ransomware attacks, according to SonicWall. The healthcare industry alone reported an 80 percent increase in cybercrime between 2017 and 2019, with hundreds of incidents and over 400 thousand supposedly HIPAA-protected patient records stolen. Cryptojacking is the latest threat, with 52.7 million incidents, in the first half of 2019, of hackers taking control of users’ CPUs to mine data for cryptocurrency.
Here’s where tape’s use case gets especially strong. While spinning disks and flash drives are networked and accessible all of the time, tape can also support an active archive or can be easily stored offline and accessed only when needed. This creates an ‘air gap’ between valuable data, the local network and the web, a practice encouraged by The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as “the only true risk avoidance in today's IT environment.”

Beyond cybercrime, the recent COVID-19 outbreak has reminded us of the vulnerability of global supply chains, especially in the technology space. Businesses can take some comfort in knowing that unlike other storage technologies, tape has a diverse manufacturing footprint, including production in the USA.

No discussion of continuity is complete without a look towards the future. Linear Tape Open (LTO) format, the industry standard, has committed to a long-term roadmap ensuring future cartridge capacities from today’s generation 8 at 30TB capacity up to currently planned generation 12 with 480TB of compressed data, ensuring tape will be a relevant technology for years to come.

This low cost of ownership and energy consumption, security, reliability and scalability are the main reasons that nearly all of the big cloud service providers also rely on tape in their massive hyperscale data centers / centres. And as even mid-size businesses grapple with the challenges of massive and growing volumes of data, tape’s value proposition is becoming compelling for a wider audience once again. 

Your business may not be a hyperscale data center today, but it might be time to start thinking like one. Back to the future, indeed.


For more information on tape technology and ways to implement it, visit tapestorage.org and www.activearchive.com



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