Thursday, 17 July 2008

Why Tape Technology Just Doesn't Cut It

There have been a raft of tape announcements in the last week, most notably the two 1TB wannabee's IBM and Sun. For around a mere $37,000, plus the cost of a cartridge, I can backup 1TB of my most precious data. HP have also announced plans to extend the life of the DAT/DDS tape drive.

If you are a large enterprise customer then the cost of these drives may be justified (although I struggle to see how, when LTO4 drives can be had for about $5000 a piece) and I'm sure actual versus list price will be much lower.

The thing is, hard drives just continue to outpace tape growth. With 1.5TB drives on the way, and 1TB SATA drives available for less than $200, then disk-to-disk is much more appealing than tape at this rate. Obviously I'm riding roughshod over the issues of disk power consumption and portability but my point is that tape just isn't keeping up the pace in either capacity or throughput.

The whole issue is especially true in the small business area where it is easy to purchase terabytes of primary storage but backup to tape is really time consuming.

Why can't tape produce the equivalent bit density of disk? Is it the more fragile nature of the medium? Clearly tape is more flimsy than a rotating sheet of metal; the T10000 cartridge tape is 6.5 microns thick and the tape itself covers approximately 11.5 square metres, much more than the total surface area of the spinning plates in a hard drive.

I guess we will just have to accept tape capacity will never be good enough. That's just the way it is.

By the way, Sun get a big fat zero in the RSS ratings for not providing their news in RSS feed format....


rwhiffen said...



Chris M Evans said...

Rich, thanks for the link; I couldn't and still can't spot it from the press releases page here;

However just doing provides me the main page. It's not exactly obvious or well advertised!

Ewan said...

You're right, tape doesn't cut it, but the bigger problem is disk doesn't cut it either, at least for small businesses.

For £750 (about $1500) I can buy a VXA-320 tape drive and 10 tapes, it's a simple solution and it works well enough for most small businesses. It lets you put a tape in each evening, and then each morning remove the tape from the drive and the office manager can put it in their bag to take home with them that night.

On the other hand, It does have all the issues of tape and if you need to backup more than around 250GB of data you're probably going to struggle.

The closest thing out there in the disk world that I can find is the GoVault which is so overpriced it makes tape too cheap to ignore.

Sure you can buy an external USB or NAS disk drive and backup to it, which is exactly how I backup my home PCs, but the NAS drive doesn't support offsite storage at all, and the USB drive needs people to fiddle with cables and probably login to windows to unmount the drive before removal each morning.

Can you find a comparable disk system to a tape drive for a similar price? Or do you believe customers should no longer take data offsite for storage? Or should they go for a 3rd system, such as backup to a NAS drive which then is then backed up over the Internet to someone like Mozy?