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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 slaker (53818) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:02PM (#39515353)

    About a year ago, staring at never-ending rsyncs between four boxes containing ~12TB of data apiece, I decided that it would be cheaper and easier for me to move to tape rather than continually duplicate data across RAID5 volumes and hope I never have a disk failure and a hard error on any of the remaining drives. I managed to get a Quantum Superloader (LTO4) and a dozen tapes for about $1600. There has been a learning curve with the setup, but there's just no other practical way to deal with tens of terabytes of information.

    I was able to move to a single storage machine and switch off a bunch of noisy, hot, power-hungry systems. I was glad to make the switch and I wish I had done it sooner,.

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

    by gnick (1211984) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:07PM (#39515417) Homepage

    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.

    Well, of course - Pretty much nobody needs this for home use. But you're forgetting that, beyond those several thousand businesses, there's also the government. We have to back up nightly and retain stuff for a VERY long time. And the government, in case you haven't noticed, is big. And we have to back up everything, even if it's completely redundant it has to be a complete snap-shot. We use tape here because, for our needs, it makes practical and financial sense. I realize that most people don't associate government with being practical or financially responsible, but every once in a while there's a sensible nerd who can make a pretty chart with colorful lines representing $$ spent that's able to persuade the powers that be.

    Tape's not dead, it just has limited situations where it makes sense. Home is rarely one of them.

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

    by pla (258480) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:34PM (#39515815) 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.

    Realistically, I have had a larger home file server than the entire corporate NAS/SAN at my last few jobs. And not talkin' about four-person mom-n'-pop shops here.

    And yet, they all insist on using tapes for backup. Drives me up a wall to see the inefficiency.

    After two years at my previous job, I finally convinced the head of IT to cycle through a handful of hot-swappable eSATA HDDs instead - After we had an actual serious crash and found tape after tape after worthless tape of complete unrecoverable garbage (despite never hearing a peep about corruption from the backup system). It took less than a week before I got to play the hero when we could recover a VP's "oops"ed spreadsheet in under a minute (as opposed to a day's work just to realize we had no viable backups).

    Tapes may count as a "safe" industry standard, but anyone using them really needs to reevaluate their business needs. They definitely do have their strong points at the very highest end, but the standard "weekly backup with a nightly incremental" ain't one of them.
  • Re:Finally!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gnick (1211984) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:45PM (#39515911) Homepage

    Yes, tape does age. Just like hard drives and optical media. But just for the record, up here in Los Alamos we're still pulling data off of tape and copying/analyzing it from our underground nuclear testing. In the computer world, that is a very long time. It was of course stored very differently than modern tape storage methods, but it's readable and usable with a little effort.

  • DIE TAPE, DIE! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Y-Crate (540566) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:48PM (#39515947)

    Nobody I work with in media production really wants tape to stick around as a day-to-day medium. Even medium-term archival use is a pain.

    The issue is that hard drives are a self-contained solution. If you give someone a hard drive, they have all of the data and physical infrastructure needed to access and use the data contained within. The most elusive component is often a spare cable.

    If you give someone an HDCam tape, they have to go find an HDCam deck. While a hard drive demands a Firewire or USB port that exists in every edit bay and on every desk in every production company, office and network everywhere, an HDCam tape needs about $80,000 to $100,000 in equipment just to get to what's on that tape. For the final output, you need that $100K deck again.

    And it's not even a matter of the outlay for the tape hardware. It's the time it adds to the whole process of working on a project.

    While you can go and rent time, it adds a layer of obfuscation and complexity in the process. Instead of rendering-out a project and dumping it onto a hard drive, you've got to actually go somewhere and pay someone to do it for you.

    Even if you have a deck, and can use it for free, it's still an extra step on both ends. And you have to stop and think "Will they be able to work with this file? Will I?" A new tape formal will likely present all of these issues. While it's a great idea on paper and in the lab, I don't see it being workable in a functioning production environment aside from long-term archival storage. (i.e: everything more than a few years back)

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2012 @09:32PM (#39518159)

    Full disclosure: I work as a professional backup/recovery sysadmin. I have been working with tape for over seven years. It's not dead; far from it. Now, if you want to argue that there are areas where it used to make sense, but doesn't any more, I'd completely agree with you. But consider one usage case as an example of how tape is still incredibly useful - this is taken from a company I did work for a couple of years ago.

    You have multiple petabytes of data. At any given point in time, you need to be able to access a specific subset of that data. You can predict, ahead of time, 95+% of the data that you will need in (say) a week's time. The rest, you don't need to be able to access quickly, but you have to retain it, because it's expensive (if not impossible) to reproduce. Once you're done with the data, you might not need it again for a year or more, or you might need it again in a few days (possibly a few hours.)

    So: you could have a very large disk array to store all that data. The hard drives are relatively cheap individually, but the support infrastructure to merge them into large arrays is expensive. The cost to keep them all online (electricity, cooling) is high. The probability of failure is relatively low, but the rebuild time if it happens can be high, depending on how things are structured. The marginal cost of adding more storage is relatively high: you have to get a new array, new disks, new fibre connections, hook it all up, hope you have enough power, ...

    Or you could have a large tape library, with multiple high-capacity drives (LTO4 in the case of the customer I'm thinking of), and thousands (yes, I'm serious) of cartridges. The data is written to the tapes; ideally duplicated (this customer didn't do that; I reckon they were stupid); and then deleted from the hard disk staging area (only a couple of TB in size.) When a given piece of data is needed, it's read off the tapes in advance, written to disk, and then accessed from the disk. Once it's no longer needed, it's simply deleted off the disk (since it's already on the tape.) Marginal cost of adding more storage: how much does a single tape cartridge cost? (maybe a storage frame if the library's full; they aren't exactly cheap, but they do hold over 1300 cartridges each: over a petabyte in potential capacity with no extra electrical requirements [LTO4; double that for LTO5], bang, done.) Electrical and cooling requirements: significantly lower; you only have to worry about a couple of TB of disk space, and a few tape drives, plus the tape robot. Rebuild time: just copy it off the redundant copy if the tape's bad.

    Is this sort of usage typical? No, not really. But it's certainly not abnormal, and this is the sort of case where tape whomps all over disk when you sit down and work through all the numbers (look at it generally, rather than thinking just about the specifics outlined; they illustrate the point, and aren't the entire point themselves.) Tape's also useful if you need to move large quantities of data offsite (backups, anybody?) and can't afford, or don't want, high capacity fibre out of your data centre to another remote location.

    I agree that "capacity after compression" is pure marketing; I do my figuring based upon native capacity (800 GB for LTO4; 1.5 TB for LTO5; 5 TB for T10000C; 3.2 TB - we hope - for LTO6). But to say that tape is "way too expensive, way too small, and ... completely irrelevant" is to misunderstand the strengths and uses of tape. Like I said: look at all the numbers, not just the purchase cost per raw TB, and pick whatever's right for the application in question.

    Oh, and the use case I outlined above? It's for a pay TV network. TV shows, movies, sporting events, concerts, documentaries. All purchased legally, but impossible to reproduce (sporting events), or expensive to re-procure (TV shows, movies) if they're lost. Think about it.

  • by donaldm (919619) on Friday March 30, 2012 @03:36AM (#39519963)

    Just make your magnetic tape on a nitrocellulose base.

    I was working for a Government scientific company back in the 1980's and was asked to purchase a years worth of backup tapes so I was pointed to a Government preferred company to purchase the reel to reel tapes (max capacity 100MB - not bad for the day). For a year the tapes worked flawlessly then the substrate started to flake off rendering the tapes useless. It seams either someone got a kick back or the people who make the recommendations for preferred Government purchases really stuffed up. Needless to say when we found out we had to repurchase tapes. Fortunately we were never asked to recover data from those tapes so it was not that serious, however it could have been.

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)

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