Want to understand what’s happening to tape? Ask tape users!

Want to understand what’s happening to tape? Ask tape users!

At the end of 2016, the LTO Ultrium Technology Provider companies, HPE, IBM and Quantum, conducted a survey to try and better understand attitudes towards tape technology and its use from the experts: the people who use it every day as a key part of their data protection strategies. There were a total of 220 respondents and in today's BURAmeter, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the findings. There is a lot of useful insight here that reinforces how tape remains a vital part of businesses’ data protection and data retention infrastructure.


Mix of survey respondents by LTO technology deployed

Tape use remains strong for backup as well as archiving

First, the headline. 85% of customers are still using tape for backup. Although the role of tape is changing, a significant number of customers are still utilizing tape as a primary backup medium. And while 67% say they are using tape for long term archiving, the fact that so many customers still deploy tape in a more advanced role is perhaps a testament to the enormous strides in performance and innovation that LTO Ultrium has made in recent years - not least with the big jump in performance between LTO-6 and LTO-7, and certainly with LTO-7 and older versions of the format.

In future, it's likely that the number of users deploying tape as a primary backup solution is going to fall. We've highlighted the difference between backup and archive in previous BURAmeter posts, and there is no doubt that meeting the needs of the all flash data centre in the era of hybrid IT is going to require levels of responsiveness and flexibility that tape was not designed for. But, and even whilst recognising my partisan opinion as a tape specialist, the degree to which tape’s demise has been talked up within the storage industry and by some commentators, is somewhat excessive. As an archive retention technology, HPE believes tape still has a key role to play in reducing risk and increasing resilience.

The capacity to impress

One of the interesting things the TPC survey did was to ask users to score a number of different features and attributes in terms of their individual importance on a scale of one to nine.

Naturally, there was a broad range of individual responses, but in terms of the features that users awarded a six or above for - e.g. those that were gaining ever increasing levels of importance - the most desirable were Dependability, Performance and Capacity. 57% of users who responded gave Dependability a score of six or higher. For Performance, the figure was 52% and for Capacity, it was 51%.

That seems indicative to me that what most tape users are looking for is a backup and archival solution that is extremely reliable; that does not need a lot of management overhead; and which has the speed and scalability to meet their ever-growing data requirements. If you were writing a blueprint for a technology that fitted these requirements, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a better one than tape.

Another part of the study shows why scalable capacity is such a strong draw for IT managers and their organisation. When asked about the amount of data being backed up, the respondents provided the following break out:

  • 21% said they were backing up less than 5 TB per week
  • 35% said they were backing up 5-20 TB per week
  • 18% said they were backing up 21-50 TB per week
  • 10% said they were backing up 51-100 TB per week
  • 12% said they were backing up more than 250+ TB per week

So put another way, over a third of users have more than 20 TB of data to backup and protect per week.

It was interesting to me that Security and Open Format features were the lowest ranked attributes, with only 31% and 39% of respondents scoring these features as a six or above. I don’t know if this is because the offline nature of a tape in a vault makes the security considerations different to those for online storage. It might also say more about the industries that respondents were working in; maybe in some industries, like finance, health care or federal government sectors, security is a more ‘existential’ concern than in publishing or manufacturing. That said, in industries like media and entertainment, digital content is increasingly the full sum of their business, and the importance of security to a studio like Dreamworks or Pixar in safeguarding copyright assets cannot be underestimated. Needless to say, with AES-256 native hardware encryption, LTO rises to the challenge for even the most security conscious customer.

Innovation scores highly

But when we look at the features that scored a top mark of nine, more or less the same patterns emerge with one exception. In this particular study, the most important feature, the one ranked nine by the highest percentage of users, was LTFS. This would imply that there is a genuine appreciation for the kind of archival solutions that LTFS makes possible.

Not only has LTFS been a core feature of tape since LTO-5, but it underpins innovative products like HPE StoreEver Archive Manager. Data management and regulatory compliance mandates make retention and archive critically important. New HPE StoreEver archive solutions meet these challenges head on, enabling accessible, scalable, low cost and reliable long-term retention. Users seem to appreciate this.

The second most popular (in terms of attracting the top score of nine) was Capacity. This also speaks to one of the core benefits of LTO Ultrium tape: it is phenomenally flexible, scalable and low cost storage. Throughout BURAmeter, we’ve repeatedly emphasised the efficiencies and risk reduction you can achieve by moving static but still valuable unstructured data from your Tier 1 production environment to an intelligent archive enhanced for easy access, low cost, and reliable long-term retention. Primary storage budgets go further, performance improves, retention requirements are addressed, and new analytical doors are opened. Customers seem to realise this too. With solutions ranging from standalone drives to exabyte-class TFinity Exascale libraries, there is a HPE tape solution to meet every type of user requirement.

As a snapshot of a reasonably large sample of end users, I think there’s some useful insight here. There certainly seems to be many reasons to feel positive about the continued value and relevance of tape within the all flash data center as we look ahead to next generation LTO Ultrium releases.

Find out more

hpe.com/storage/storeever

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Andrew Dodd

Andrew Dodd  Andrew Dodd

Worldwide Marcom Manager, HPE Storage Supplies

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