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Where Does Tape Go From Here?

Where Does Tape Go From Here?

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I read with interest Chris Mellor’s recent article on Oracle’s latest tape drive and it got me thinking.  In the mid 1990’s I was doing some work for StorageTek (which is where this tape technology comes from) and was lucky to be asked to speak at the StorageTek Forum, that year held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  At the time, STK was about to release the 9840 drive, codenamed “eagle” and we had a number of press conferences and discussions about the new technology.  StorageTek were always ahead with their tape technology and their own proprietary format, but the tradeoff was cost – STK was more expensive.  Looking at Chris’ article, it made me wonder two things; first how are people calculating the ROI on such monsters and two, whether these kinds of tape drives have a future in the Enterprise data centre.

Return on Investment

Firstly, there’s cost.  Imagine purchasing a drive that gets amortised over three years.  Irrespective of the absolute cost of the drive, the benefit is in the volume of data that can be read and written from it.  Large capacity media certainly helps as it reduces the number of media swaps and the down time that involves.  Fast transfer is also essential and the Oracle T10000D is apparently 57.5% faster than the competition.  However how many of us have actually seen tape drive being driven at full throughput?  What does it take to keep a drive, capable of 756MB/s fed with data?

The reality is that the drive will never run at that speed and to even try to achieve it would require masses of disk cache to keep the media continuously fed and not continually in stop/start mode.  That makes it difficult for anything other than the large enterprise customers to use and even then, they may well find it hard to justify over LTO-6.

Archive & Cloud

Now, the world of cloud and in particular archive represents a perfect opportunity for these types of tape drive.  I can see these devices being incredibly popular as the back-end storage medium for large cloud ISPs who need to read, write and copy  large volumes of data.  Effectively these are environments where economy of scale allows them to be fully utilised, reading data from large numbers of clustered server nodes.  Perhaps there will be a few other use cases where organisations with large media catalogues can use them too.


What about indexing?  How will the data be stored, accessed and retrieved?  The industry would have us believe the answer is LTFS.  I’m not sure that this is the solution and what we really need is for the cloud providers to develop their own techniques and formats for using sequential media.  This could require a significant rethink and perhaps some mainframe smarts from many years ago.  In a few weeks’ time I’ll be attending an IT Question Time event in London, then the SpectraLogic analyst event in Colorado, where I’m hoping to have some good discussions and find some answers.  I’ll post some more details on both events once I have them.


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Copyright (c) 2013 – Brookend Ltd, first published on http://architecting.it, do not reproduce without permission.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • wcurtispreston

    Hey, Chris! Long time no see/talk/chat/comment!

    Just curious… Why do you think a bunch of cloud vendors developing their own ways to use sequential would be in any way better than what they could do if they just learned to use LTFS tape? It’s not just “the industry” that’s saying that LTFS is good. It’s people like me that believe that having a tape format that allows me to change archive vendors without migrating data between different formats is a Good Thing(TM).

    • http://thestoragearchitect.com/ Chris M Evans

      Curtis, I guess probably because they have displayed a history of developing solutions that know how to scale. Both Facebook and Google have had to deal with things that never crop up in most enterprises and as a results we’ve seen them develop new file systems and databases.

      I imagine we need to see something similar and innovative that works for tape too. That’s not to say LTFS wouldn’t be suitable for many folks, just the ones at hyperscale may be more innovative through necessity.


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