Storing the Future: New Tech and Strategies for Tape Backup and Archiving

Topics: Offsite Tape Vaulting

Download PDF

Tape may be an “old school” technology, but breakthroughs in speed and capacity are making the medium more vital than ever—not only for long-term storage, but also for more immediate backup needs.


DID YOU KNOW? On May 21, 1952, IBM announced the IBM 726 tape reader/recorder, boasting a capacity of 2 million digits per tape. The drive was the size of a refrigerator, and its tape reel the size of your average large pizza.

FAST FACT: Tape-based archiving currently dominates internal disk, external disk and cloud media, according to research firm Enterprise Strategy Group. ESG predicts continued momentum for backup tape, with 45 percent compound annual growth by 2015.


Backup tape is the tireless baby boomer of the storage world. In 2012, magnetic tape celebrated its 60th birthday as a medium for accessing large amounts of data. But unlike many sixty somethings, this star performer won’t be getting a gold watch anytime soon.

In fact, backup tape is perfectly suited for the ever-growing era of Big Data. Because of consistent breakthroughs in capacities, its low cost and proven reliability, tape is a logical choice for long-term data backup and archiving. IT managers are combining backup tape with other technologies to create the ideal data backup and recovery environment.

Consider the Specifics

Big Data calls for big storage solutions, and backup tape answers with capacity:

  • Although disk drives currently max out at about 4 terabytes, tape backup solutions are racing past that benchmark.
  • Today’s LTO-6 (linear tape-open) cartridges can store up to 6.25 terabytes of compressed information at transfer speeds of up to 400 megabytes per second.
  • Storage experts anticipate that LTO-8 cartridges will hold up to 32 terabytes.

When you consider these current and imminent advances, it’s easy to see why tape remains the premier Big Data storage medium.

Backup Tape Hits the Accelerator

One of the historical drawbacks of backup tape, compared to disk storage, has been its relatively slower speed. But while disk-drive speeds have not improved much in recent years, tape access speeds have revved up with each iteration of LTO technology.

The introduction of LTFS, the linear tape file system, marks another huge breakthrough in tape data backup. Available for LTO-5 tapes and beyond, LTFS lets the user partition a tape into two parts: one section for indexing and metadata, the other for files. Since the index categorizes the files, you won’t need a second application to determine a backup tape’s contents.

What’s more, the LTFS hierarchical directory structure and those fast search indexes make a backup tape behave more like a disk. So you can access files directly on the tape—and even drag-and-drop files to and from it.

As a result of these advances in speed and accessibility, tape may become more appealing for shorter-term data backup as well.

Hybrid Environments Embrace Efficiency

Backup tape’s unique qualities have made it a key player in hybrid storage solutions. In the optimal hybrid storage scheme, the organization categorizes data by its mission-critical urgency, then assigns it to the most efficient and cost-effective storage format. In this setting, backup tape most likely handles the long-term storage of occasionally accessed data.

Businesses Seek Ultimate Protection

Your firm needs a data backup and recovery solution that can jump into action after a natural or man-made data disaster. Adding offsite tape storage to any tape-based data backup and recovery plan is the obvious way to do this. It ensures the continued protection—and rapid restoration—of vital business data.

On the granular level, various iterations of backup tape provide additional safeguards and efficiency benefits:

  • LTO-4 generation and newer backup tapes include AES-256 data encryption.
  • The write-once-read-many (WORM) technology in LTO-3, LTO-4, LTO-5 and LTO-6 tapes prevents data overwriting.
  • In recent years, backup tape’s mean time between failure (MTBF) rates have increased dramatically—from 80,000 hours to more than 400,000 hours, according to consulting firm Horison Inc.

Get Some Lift in Containing Costs

What about the bottom line? According to an eWeek report, LTO-5 tape storage costs 15 times less than the same amount of Serial ATA (SATA) disk-based storage. Horison analysts project that for the foreseeable future, the average price per gigabyte for automated tape library storage will remain far below that of magnetic disk storage.

Moreover, tape-based archiving can also help trim your energy bills, since archival tapes stored safely on a shelf consume precisely zero energy. Contrast that with a server room full of spinning hard drives.

When you consider tape-based data backup and recovery solutions, you’re looking forward to a future in which ever-increasing volumes of archived data are accessible, secure and cost-effective. Backup tape endures as a powerful workhorse ready to take on tomorrow’s Big Data challenges.


Iron Mountain Suggests: Tap Into Tape

Tape backup is energy-efficient, scalable, highly secure and constantly improving. Iron Mountain provides advanced data backup and recovery services designed specifically for tape technology. Four of its top services include:

  • Offsite Tape Vaulting: Ideal climate conditions in a secure facility keep tapes from degrading, and shielding prevents them from being damaged by magnetic waves.
  • Data Restoration: Tapes and other storage media evolve over time, forcing many companies to hold onto obsolete technology just to read data in case of litigation, regulatory investigations or internal requests. Iron Mountain® Data Restoration and Migration Services can quickly and efficiently restore data from those older materials and migrate the information to a current media format.
  • Dedicated Transportation: Iron Mountain transports your storage media in a dedicated vehicle equipped with the Iron Mountain InControl® solution, which delivers patented security, tracking and auditable chain of custody.
  • Disaster Recovery Support: Iron Mountain reviews threats to your business, tests your disaster response and recovery, refines your plan for better results, and implements the plan should calamity strike.

Related Content

Data Recovery Assess Your Downtime Risks

From Creation to Destruction: The Story of Your Data's Lifecycle

Four Reasons Why You Need a Backup of the Backup