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Preview of the DCIG 2014 Big Data Tape Library Buyer’s Guide

I’ve grown to be frustrated with the phrase “Tape is not dead.” The campaign against tape has been so utterly successful that the users and defenders of tape have accepted language that implies that the default situation for tape is death. By saying tape is not dead we are accepting the idea that it might be dead.
Perhaps it is more where you look. There is no question that for small enterprises with under a terabyte of data that tape no longer looks attractive. The lure of plugging in an inexpensive external hard drive purchased from the local retail store is too great. It’s “good enough“. But for medium to large enterprises with large volumes of data that need to be archived for longer and longer periods of time tape is still viable and even superior to drive arrays.
A recent report gives us a snapshot of the tape media market in the third quarter of 2013. The numbers paint a picture of an “LTO and everyone else” landscape. It should be noted however that numbers are not available for the proprietary “mainframe” tape formats from IBM and Oracle. LTO is listed as selling 5.1 million units. DDS and DAT combined for about 400,000. The rest of the tape formats combined totaled less than 70,000 units.
Reading between the lines here we can see that the small enterprise (DDS/DAT and 8MM) have largely left the market but the medium to large enterprise (LTO) media still seem to be hanging on. Larger datasets justify the larger upfront hardware costs of tape and can take advantage of the savings of scale when buying larger quantities of media.Furthermore, as LTO and the “mainframe” tape formats rollout higher densities the media cost per gigabyte of data goes down over the long term. It also means the physical transfer and storage costs go down significantly because fewer tapes need to change locations or vaulted. Looking further at the numbers the report seems to indicate a move from older LTO formats into the newer LTO-5 and LTO-6 formats. This is a sign that existing LTO customers are upgrading their infrastructure, not abandoning tape altogether.
DCIG believes this core of customers is likely to be medium to large enterprise users with specific needs that tape is well suited to serving. Because tape is good at leaving data “at rest” the cost structure of tape is particularly attractive to users with large data sets that once created stay relatively static. In other words, “Big Data.” Most big data datasets are constantly growing but once new data is added it rarely changes.
However in many ways the way big data gets stored is different than the way tape is used to ingesting data. One of the new features identified and scored by the 2014 DCIG Big Data Tape Library Buyer’s Guide is the growing use of REST APIs to store data directly to tape drives. REST APIs are web based services and protocols that make up much of the underpinnings of new public and private cloud datasets. Roughly 25% of the models we surveyed now support the ability to store data directly to tape using REST. At least one vendor is mimicking the Amazon S3 REST protocol to ease both the initial ingest of data and migration between different tiers of data storage. Nine of the models further support the ability to store data to secondary cloud storage. DCIG believes this is a significant step forward.
While we found new features we also found a growing sense that certain features are now “standard” on the tape libraries we studied.
  • 100% of the libraries surveyed supported encryption
  • 79% supported LTFS in some form
  • 73% supported some form of tape wear monitoring
  • 50% supported drive virtualization
If the preliminary survey data for the DCIG 2014 Big Data Tape Library Buyer’s Guide is any indication the tape industry is still alive and is adapting to its evolving role.
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