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After 60 Years, Tape Reinserts Itself 312

Posted by timothy
from the sentience-from-unexpected-source dept.
Lucas123 writes "While magnetic tape is about as boring as technology gets, it's still the cheapest storage medium and among the fastest in sequential reads and writes. And, with the release of LTO-6 with 8TB cartridges around the corner and the relatively new open linear tape file system (LTFS) being embraced by movie and television markets, tape is taking on a new life. It may even climb out of the dusty archives that cheap disk has relegated it to. 'Over the last two years, disk drives have gotten bigger, they've gone from 1TB to 3TB, but they haven't gotten faster. They're more like tape. Meanwhile, tape is going the other direction, it's getting faster,' said Mark Lemmons, CTO of Thought Equity Motion, a cloud storage service for the motion picture industry."
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After 60 Years, Tape Reinserts Itself

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  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:34PM (#39515001) Journal

    Once again, Reel-To-Reel computers are no longer anachronistic in 60's Sci-Fi shows.

    But... but... they must have the blinkenlights!

  • Finally!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iamhassi (659463) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:36PM (#39515023) Journal
    I've missed my tape drive! My TR-3 1.6/3.2 circa 1996, was plenty for the hard drives available at time and pretty much a requirement for Windows 95 considering how often it killed itself, but within just a few years the hard drives far exceeded the capacity of tape. Fortunately by then Windows 2000 was out and life has been good since.

    I'd love to use tape again, but with 1.5/3.0TB drives selling in the $1,500 range [google.com] it still doesn't make sense, not when I can buy a dozen 2TB hard drives for the price of one 1.5/3.0TB tape drive [newegg.com]
  • Re:Finally!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:43PM (#39515115)

    I'd love to use tape again, but with 1.5/3.0TB drives selling in the $1,500 range [google.com] it still doesn't make sense, not when I can buy a dozen 2TB hard drives for the price of one 1.5/3.0TB tape drive [newegg.com]

    Right, and if all you need is a few dozen drives, it's probably not worth it. Let's talk when you need to backup 12 TB every night and you can only recycle the tapes yearly. Two drives and 1800 tapes is cheaper than 1800 drives, and until convinced otherwise I believe the tapes will take the time in storage with a better chance of coming back to life.

    Tape isn't for days of storage, it's for archival.

  • Um, no (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:43PM (#39515127)

    'Over the last two years, disk drives have gotten bigger, they've gone from 1TB to 3TB, but they haven't gotten faster. They're more like tape. Meanwhile, tape is going the other direction, it's getting faster,' said Mark Lemmons, CTO of Thought Equity Motion, a cloud storage service...

    Hmmmm, sounds as if you're selling something...

    1) Big drives are still random access, tape isn't.
    2) Faster moving tape is more prone to catastrophic breakage than slower moving tape. (Although both are way more prone to The Bad Thing (TM) than disk drives are.
    3) Azimuth alignment between ostensibly "identical" tape drives -- hilarity ensues.
    4) Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

  • Re:Finally!! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by iamhassi (659463) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @03:55PM (#39515277) Journal

    Right, and if all you need is a few dozen drives, it's probably not worth it. Let's talk when you need to backup 12 TB every night and you can only recycle the tapes yearly. Two drives and 1800 tapes is cheaper than 1800 drives, and until convinced otherwise I believe the tapes will take the time in storage with a better chance of coming back to life.

    Tape isn't for days of storage, it's for archival.

    And... how many people, need that? To store 12 TB nightly? Few thousand businesses, perhaps? Not even your super-geekiest nerd is storing 1,800 tapes a year.

    There was a time when you could easily purchase a computer designed for home or SOHO usage with a tape drive. Not anymore. Tape has pushed itself out of the SOHO market and into corporate world only. You can't even buy a tape drive in stores anymore, and no wonder when a 72gb drive costs $600+ [officedepot.com]

    Tape is still dead. Long live hard drives for storage... or the cloud [slashdot.org]

  • Re:Finally!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jimicus (737525) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:20PM (#39515587)

    > Unless tape has improved in the last 20 years, it has has an archival life of a decade or two.

    Bit of a shame that tape drives are generally only compatible within a couple of generations of the same tape technology.

    LTO, for instance, mandates that the tape drive is able to read and write tapes of its own generation and the one immediately before it, and read tapes two generations back. Which means that an LTO4 drive is not mandated to be able to read an LTO1 tape.

  • by lgw (121541) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:22PM (#39515623) Journal

    Clearly you know nothing of regulatory compliance if you think simple and obvious solutons have anything to do with it! (BTW, tape backup was incremental decades before "de-dup" ) You're require to store what you're required to store, and making any kind of damn sense at all doesn't enter in to it.

  • Re:Finally!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @04:28PM (#39515719) Journal

    The problem is that a 1.5 TB tape costs $50 and were it not for the flooding in Thailand, a 3 TB hard drive would cost under $80 like they were last year, which means that you never break even with tape cost-wise no matter the volume.

    And then there's the added inconvenience. When lots of desktop computers come with a 3 TB hard drive and your tapes only hold 1.5 TB apiece, that means that even home machines are split across multiple tapes. This means the $1500 bare tape drive isn't enough to back up even a home computer. You'll need that $5,000 tape library instead.

    Also, I wish people would quit calling LTO-6 an 8 TB drive. It uses only a 3.2 TB tape, which is too small to even back up hard drives that were shipping three months ago (4 TB) without compression. So the product that they haven't even started shipping is already hopelessly out of date, just has been the case for every consecutive generation of tape drive for at least the last ten years. Even more amusingly, the tape industry keeps creeping up in their estimates of compression. It used to be that their best-case capacity estimates assumed 2x compression. Now it's 2.5x. They're trying to look like they still matter, when in reality, they're falling further and further behind the hard drive industry. If it provided 8 TB uncompressed, I would consider buying one (assuming the tape price were under a hundred bucks a tape), but tape drives will really only be interesting to me if they actually get out ahead of peak hard drive capacity by enough of a margin that the tape drive will still be able to back up an entire machine in less than three or four tapes after a few years. Otherwise, they will never make sense unless you're backing up terabytes per day.

    It's a shame, too. I really liked owning a tape drive back in the late 1990s. The big difference is that my computer at the time was five years old and had a small hard drive, so I was able to buy a used tape drive for under a hundred bucks that would back it up onto a single tape that cost me ten or twelve dollars. The difference between that and a $1,500 drive with $100+ tapes is not small.

    For big, institutional setups where you're backing up terabytes per day, tape might still make sense, but only because hard drive prices are temporarily high and because storage space has a nonzero cost. For folks with more realistic daily data deltas, they're way too expensive, way too small, and for all practical purposes, completely irrelevant already. It's going to take a lot more than being able to back up 3/4ths of the current top-of-the-line hard drive per tape before tape will make sense again.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:44PM (#39516555) Journal

    That was the lightning strike that wiped out your $55K cheap solution where you're storing the data SOX requires you to keep.

    Ooops.

    Now you get to explain to the execs who now risk jail time why you were SOOOO fucking smart.

    You would probably get a pay raise for this. Backups destroyed with plauasible deniablility. Perfect! Your employer doesn't want the backups, they are required to store them, but if they are accidentally deleted, well, that's just convenient when the SEC or some other agency comes calling.

  • Re:Finally!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bertok (226922) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @09:51PM (#39518779)

    That arbitrary number of "20 years" says a lot.

    In the days of analog archival formats, the longevity of a certain medium was critical, because copies couldn't be made without degradation. Hence, lots of bureaucracies came up with rules such as "archival media must be usable for at least 'n' decades". This is a good rule, because otherwise people would do idiotic things like keep long-term archives polaroid photos or fax paper, and then they'd be in for a nasty shock when umpteen years later they'd find that their archives had faded away completely.

    But since those ancient times, we've had this shiny newfangled technology called "digital" that you may have heard of. It has this amazing property that copies do not degrade at all. You can copy a tape over and over and over, from one generation to the next, and never lose a single bit of data. Hence, the new rule ought to be "copy all data every 'n' years to newer media" instead of some fixed longetivity. Not only does this massively reduce long-term storage costs as media bit density increases, it's also a good opportunity to verify data integrity. On top of this, media with a shorter lifetime can be used instead of more expensive "archive grade" media, further reducing costs.

    If you're insisting that your backup tapes last 20 years instead of simply setting up a scheduled copy in your backup software, then you're doing it wrong. You should never need to go back three generations of tapes. This is not the fault of the tape hardware vendors not meeting your requirements, instead, the fault is your flawed requirements stemming from outdated practices.

    To put things in perspective, LTO-1 is only 12 years old, and is already difficult to read. To go back 20 years, you'd be looking at DDS-2, a tape format with a 4GB capacity. You could fit an archive of about a thousand DDS-2 tapes onto a single LTO-6 tape!

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