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IBM leads parade of vendors delivering LTO-9 tape drives

While sales of tape drives faltered in 2020, IBM and a handful of storage vendors hope to fuel a comeback with delivery of new offerings that ascribe to the LTO-9 specifications.

A number of top-tier vendors delivered new versions of tape drives that meet the Ultrium LTO-9 specification, allowing users to pack up to 45 TB of compressed data on a single cartridge.

The new IBM LTO-9 Tape Drive features the company's Open Recommended Access Order, an accelerator that allows applications to retrieve data from tapes faster, thanks to dramatically reduced seek times among files. The accelerator can be used with compressed or uncompressed data, reducing access times by up to 73%, according to IBM.

Tape drives from HPE, Sony, Fujifilm Corp. and Quantum LTO Holdings LLC also passed the LTO Ultrium Generation 9 Format testing, with offerings to follow.

Tape storage adoption on the rise

The continued interest in tape drives, despite more advanced technologies such as flash, is driven by sizable corporate investment in tape over the past few decades and the recent improvements in the technology that make it valuable to larger cybersecurity strategies.

Despite its lack of sex appeal, some observers believe there is worthwhile money to be made in this market. The global tape storage market size is expected to reach $9.42 billion by 2030, up from $4.31 billion in 2019 -- an average compound annual growth rate of 7.8% -- according to research conducted by Allied Market Research.

Eric HerzogEric Herzog

"Larger enterprises aren't going to migrate away from tape anytime soon," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects Inc. "It is very inexpensive compared to flash, and as corporate databases get bigger, demand [for tape] grows. It's still the best physical air gap between your data and cybercriminals."

The new IBM offering, which is 50% faster than its predecessor, has a data transfer rate of up to 400 MB for full height and 300 MB for half-height cartridges -- an 11% increase over the last generation of devices.

Tape drives play an integral role in IT pros' cybersecurity strategies, but many have not deployed them yet, according to Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer and vice president of global storage channels at IBM.

"One of the first things we talk about with customers is storage is critical to their overarching cybersecurity strategy," Herzog said. "You not only need a castle wall with a moat, but the police to chase [hackers] down if they get over the wall. If self-storage is not part of your overall cybersecurity strategy, you are leaving a gap. It can be 200 days or more before users realize ransomware is in their shop."

[Tape drives] are very inexpensive compared to flash, and as corporate databases get bigger, demand [for tape] grows. It's still the best physical air gap between your data and cybercriminals.
Frank DzubeckPresident, Communications Network Architects

The full-height IBM LTO-9 offering natively supports data encryption with core hardware encryption and decryption capabilities in the tape drive itself to ensure data privacy and fend off data corruption.

Addressing the claim that tape drives can be cost-effective, Herzog said the IBM offering costs users 1 cent per gigabyte or $5.89 per terabyte. Organizations can store up to 1.04 exabytes of compressed data per 18-frame tape library and up to 39 PB of compressed data in a 10-square-foot tape library with an LTO Ultrium 9 cartridge.

Another advantage of the new offering is the WORM data cartridge model stores data in a non-erasable, non-rewritable format that protects against overwriting, minimizing risk of data loss brought about by human error.

As Editor At Large with TechTarget's News Group, Ed Scannell is responsible for writing and reporting breaking news, news analysis and features focused on technology issues and trends affecting corporate IT professionals. He worked for 26 years at Infoworld and Computerworld covering enterprise class products and technologies from larger IT companies including IBM and Microsoft, and served as Editor of Redmond for three years overseeing that magazine's editorial content.

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