Why Tape-Based Data Storage Is Winning the Storage Wars

Data tape cartridges remain a formidable option for enterprise storage — and in many instances, tape remains the weapon of choice for IT administrators. Modern formats like LTO-9 are scalable, cost-effective, and most importantly, secure.  

In fact, tape cartridges are effectively winning the so-called “storage wars” — at least, in terms of sales. According to the LTO Program Technology Provider Companies, the total capacity (compressed) of LTO tapes reached 148.3 exabytes (EB) in 2022, an increase of 0.5% over the previous year. Meanwhile, hard drive shipments for the second quarter of 2023 fell 33.5% year-over-year.

Part of that discrepancy can be attributed to consumer demand. For home computer users, solid-state drives (SSDs) offer enormous performance advantages over hard disk drives (HDDs). While there’s certainly a price discrepancy between those technologies, it’s not too significant for most consumers.

But for IT administrators, SSD is rarely a practical option. Archives and backups need to be secure, but they don’t need to be especially fast — they simply need to be cost effective solutions. 

To that end, tape-based storage offers several distinct advantages over SSDs and HDDs in enterprise environments:

Data tapes provide a better TCO.

Per-gigabyte, tape media is relatively cheap, with LTO-9 weighing in around $0.0058 per gigabyte (GB). Hard drives are many times more expensive, averaging around $0.014 per gigabyte, though some enterprise models are somewhat cheaper. 

Even when accounting for the cost of hardware, tapes maintain a low total cost of ownership (TCO). One analysis found that LTO-8 provided a TCO that was 86% lower than disk solutions and 66% lower than cloud solutions over a 10-year period.

Related: Should You Migrate to LTO-8 or LTO-9?

Data tapes are inherently secure.

Every data storage medium requires unique security controls, but data tapes are uniquely positioned for compliance: Enterprises can easily create air-gapped backups to build resistance against ransomware and other threats. 

Tape management systems can further protect data by establishing access requirements. Even without a tape management system, solutions like RACF® tape volume security can keep data sets compliant with relevant security/privacy laws. 

Of course, hard drives can be secure — but tape hardware is inherently harder to acquire and use, so it’s less of an obvious target for bad actors. And with the rise of ransomware, air gapping has reemerged as a crucial security practice. 

Related: Ransomware Attacks and Tape Backups: Best Practices and Lessons Learned

While tape cartridges will remain viable for enterprise storage, data migration projects must be handled carefully.

Many enterprises are moving away from disk-based storage and cloud storage, or at least restricting the data that they trust to those mediums. 

But it’s important to recognize the limitations of any storage format. To build a robust archive/backup strategy, it’s essential to plan carefully: Whether you’re migrating to a new tape format, sanitizing legacy media, or switching to new backup software, the process must be handled carefully. 

Total Data Migration provides an extensive set of data services for businesses of all sizes. Whether you operate a law firm or a data center, we can help you find secure data management strategies that maintain compliance. 

Our services feature:

  • Support for over 3000 native tape systems and backup formats.
  • Data recovery resources for managing damaged or unreadable tapes.
  • Expert guidance for retiring legacy systems, migrating to new formats, and more.
  • On-site and remote options for balancing efficiency with compliance concerns.

If you’re considering a switch to tape — or a new approach that limits your TCO — we’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.