Tape is back on the main menu

tape stacker

The news that another of the big players in global file systems, Hammerspace, has integrated tape access into its data orchestration software should remind us all that tape’s modern incarnations are very modern indeed. Sure, the basic technology has been around for a long time – some of us will still remember reel-to-reel or even the Sinclair Microdrive – but what’s around today is very, very different, and far from being legacy.

It’s been possible to build tape storage into your data management systems for a long time, of course. Several tape developers offer shared storage and other file systems that feature tiering to tape, such as Quantum StorNext, SpectraLogic StorCycle and IBM Spectrum. A number of third parties have developed S3 interfaces for tape as well, including the three that Hammerspace is working with: Grau Data, PoINT Software & Systems, and QStar Technologies.

Treating tape an an equal, not an afterthought

The thing that stands out from the Hammerspace story is that it has integrated these tape systems into its active global file system. Where most (though not all) previous implementations have treated tape as an archival layer, or allowed users to go into a directory listing and pull individual files off, the company says its integration means that “data on tape is always available and active,” appearing online alongside data on other storage types.

We at Freeform Dynamics have long championed tape storage. It is still the cheapest long-term storage medium, and the two main formats, LTO and IBM TS1100, have high capacities and long road-maps. And today when we talk of tape, we usually mean multi-petabyte automated libraries and autoloaders, rather than single drives, though of course those are still around too.

Data security and ESG benefits as well

But it’s not just cost and capacity that favours tape. It can provide data security and ESG benefits too – it’s on-prem, it can provide immutable and air-gapped storage, providing cyber-resilience, and a ‘quiesced’ tape consumes no power. Lastly for now there’s the latency and data gravity aspect, as on-site deep storage avoids the time and cost penalties of going to a remote service.

Of course, modern tape storage is not for everyone, and it’s no longer the automatic choice for many of its former uses, such as backing up a single server or small cluster. But for anyone consuming petabytes of long-term or ‘cold’ storage, or in need of air-gapped cyber protection, whatever the application or data volume, or wanting to run AI analytics on their total data set, it’s still often the best fit.

That’s even more true if you can bring it into your regular data management regime and your shared global file system as an equal partner alongside all the other current storage types – putting it onto the main menu, in other words.

Could we see tape usage expand again, then? Let’s hope so, as more companies recognise the potential value of on-site deep storage in areas such as data sovereignty, ESG, resilience, speed, and of course, control over your own destiny.

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Bryan Betts is sadly no longing with us. He worked as an analyst at Freeform Dynamics between July 2016 and February 2024, when he tragically passed away following an unexpected illness. We are proud to continue to host Bryan’s work as a tribute to his great contribution to the IT industry.