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LTO tape capacity shipments dip, but expected to rise

The return of businesses to the office plus tape's protection against cyber attacks should help increase LTO shipments. In addition, LTO-9 recently launched with higher capacity.

The COVID-19 pandemic likely caused a dip in the volume of shipped tape capacity but also shined the spotlight on a key reason to use the storage media.

According to the LTO Program Technology Provider Companies -- HPE, IBM and Quantum -- in their annual tape media shipment report, 105,198 PB of compressed capacity shipped in 2020. In 2019, a record 114,079 PB of compressed LTO tape capacity shipped.

"We weren't surprised with the numbers," said Laura Loredo, senior product manager at HPE.

However, experts expect the shipped capacity to rise in 2021.

The recently released LTO-9 offers a 50% higher capacity than the previous LTO-8 generation.

Businesses have headed back to the office, and organizations are taking advantage of tape's inherent air gap against a trend that surged during the pandemic -- cyber attacks.

"The perfect storm is ransomware," said Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

Cyber attackers took advantage of remote workers' more vulnerable cybersecurity. While ransomware is going to accelerate, Bertrand said, tape provides strong cyber resilience. The medium offers immutability and isolated recovery.

Analyzing tape's benefits, challenges, uses

"Tape is the only media today that will provide an air gap for your data," Loredo said. "It is completely and truly offline."

The cloud, though offsite and a good spot for backups, is still online. According to the "3-2-1" backup strategy, organizations should have three copies of their data, on at least two different media, with one offsite. The modified "3-2-1-1" backup strategy calls for one copy offsite and one copy offline.

Cloud use surged during the pandemic because of its convenience during a time when organizations largely worked from home.

Many clients had restricted access and couldn't get in the data center, said Carlos Sandoval, tape offering manager at IBM. Without the pandemic, the LTO Program expected another record year of shipments.

Sandoval said he expects to catch up with the next LTO tape capacity shipment report. Deploying more on-premises infrastructure will help, Sandoval said.

Rich Gadomski, head of tape evangelism at Fujifilm, which manufactures LTO cartridges, also said he expects an increase in total shipments in 2021. He noted that in 2020, organizations delayed new on-site deployments. As a result, the cloud became useful.

ESG's Bertrand said he thinks the shipped LTO tape capacity will at least double within five years. He said he suspects the 2020 figure, released in August, to be an anomaly because of the pandemic.

"We have growing amounts of data," Bertrand said. "That's not stopping."

It's going to take a combination of media -- disk, flash, tape and cloud -- to handle it all.

"All these technologies work together," Gadomski said. "We think tape has a big role to play."

Users reported reliability, cost and security as top benefits of tape, Bertrand said. In addition, there's more automation now with tape, so less of a need for hands-on work, which is important as many employees still work remotely.

Chart of LTO capacity shipments

In a 2020 ESG report, 44% of organizations said tape is the most cost-effective backup media, compared with 30% for the public cloud. In addition, 34% said tape is the most recoverable backup media, compared with 34% for public cloud and 32% for disk systems.

"Tape is resurfacing as a viable option for many customers that had turned away from it in the past," said Diana Salazar, product marketing manager at Quantum.

Tape is the greenest media you can have.
Laura LoredoSenior product manager, HPE

Major markets include cloud hyperscalers, video surveillance, and media and entertainment.

Long-term and deep archives are key uses, strengthened by tape's low cost for storage, Salazar said.

Additionally, the use of tape as a "green" technology has intensified as organizations seek to decrease their energy use. Tape libraries use little power, Loredo said. Tapes that sit on a shelf use no energy.

"Tape is the greenest media you can have," Loredo said. "We think that's going to be the next big thing with tape."

LTO-9 hits market with increased capacity, speed

With the release of LTO-9 this month, the LTO tape capacity jumped to 45 TB compressed and 18 TB native. LTO-8 offers 30 TB compressed capacity and 12 TB native.

Data transfer rates also increased. LTO-9 provides up to 1,000 MBps for compressed data and 400 MBps for native. LTO-8 offers transfer speeds of up to 750 MBps compressed and 360 MBps native.

Both LTO cartridge manufacturers, Fujifilm and Sony, completed interchange testing and achieved LTO-9 format compliance, according to the LTO Program.

Fujifilm launched its LTO-9 tape cartridges on Sept. 7. A Sony representative said the company has shipped LTO-9 for third parties, but does not have plans to ship Sony-branded LTO-9 cartridges.

Internet pricing for one Fujifilm cartridge is about $200.

"It's really early, but I think customers are excited to have it on the market," Gadomski said.

It will take time before LTO-9 is in widespread use, which is normal, Bertrand said. 

Some companies need that LTO tape capacity increase, Gadomski said. It equates to lower total cost of ownership and less media handling.

The LTO roadmap runs up to the 12th generation, which is slated to offer 360 TB compressed capacity.

LTO roadmap

"Things have quickly evolved," Bertrand said. For example, LTO-4, released in 2010, offered native capacity of 800 GB.

In the last couple of weeks, vendors have launched products compatible with LTO-9. For example, IBM released tape drives and Spectra Logic said its tape libraries support LTO-9. LTO-9 drives are backward compatible with LTO-8 tapes.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.

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