Linear Tape-Open technology continues to set records in shipments to customers looking for a secure and cost-effective storage medium.
LTO technology achieved another record in 2022, with 148.3 exabytes of capacity shipped, a slight increase from 2021's 148 exabytes. LTO is an open-format storage medium that uses magnetic tape for data storage. The annual shipments are tracked by the LTO Program, a joint effort of several vendors to deliver the LTO format.
Data generation and the requirement to retain data for business and compliance purposes are ongoing challenges, according to Christophe Bertrand, an analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group.
"Customers say, 'I'm going to keep a lot of data for a long time while trying to optimize costs,' and that's where tape comes in," Bertrand said.
The drivers that fueled LTO growth in 2022 were the same in 2021, such as the need for ransomware protection and data growth, particularly at the hyperscalers, according to Phil Goodwin, an analyst at IDC.
"A number of hyperscalers have figured out that it's very economical to store very large amounts of data that are infrequently accessed [on LTO tapes]," he said.
Continuous issues and needs
There is no indication that storage needs will decline anytime soon, and that includes for tape, Goodwin said. LTO is lower cost in capacity compared with other storage media.
"I don't see the fundamental economics changing dramatically in a way to shift people away from tape to other types of media," Goodwin said.
One such customer that has no intention of moving away from tape is Allan McNabb, vice president and COO of Image Building Media, a marketing firm in Tampa, Fla.
"As a longtime user of LTO tapes, I can attest that their usefulness for data storage and backup has only grown over time," he said. "While cloud-based storage may be all the rage these days, it's important to note that tape storage still has its advantages."
Phil GoodwinAnalyst, IDC
Global economics could potentially change this, but it's unlikely, he said. If all business slows, the rate of data growth might also slow, but this likely won't have a negative effect on the tape capacity that is being shipped. If data is generated, customers must store and protect it.
"Storage tends to be a bit inelastic," Goodwin said.
Bertrand agreed that tape will continue to grow in popularity unless a disrupter, such as a new storage medium, emerges.
"It would have to have similar or better characteristics from a storage standpoint," he said, also noting that price would be a consideration.
Plus, the new storage medium would have to provide an effective tool for ransomware. Tape provides companies with a way to fight ransomware by making stored data physically untouchable to bad actors, Bertrand said.
"[With tape, there is] the ability to eject the media, making it invisible," he said.
If companies experience an attack, they can push the tape cartridge back into the library for a recovery.
Limits to LTO
The LTO Program aims to double the capacity of the tape medium approximately every two to three years, with plans to ship 1.4 PB of capacity per cartridge in the coming decade. However, capacity alone is not the sole consideration in storage.
While tape offers security and cost benefits, it won't displace the need for SSDs or HDDs, Goodwin said. Individual tape devices have limitations in terms of speed, and tape generally has a higher initial access time compared with the other storage media.
While it won't replace disk entirely, there are certain cases where using tape as the main storage medium makes sense, according to Bertrand.
He pointed to active archives as an example. These repositories require large storage capacities and enable companies to access data they might need only occasionally. But using SSDs and HDDs can be inefficient and too costly for this purpose.
Automation has also made tape a more practical storage medium by reducing the amount of manual labor needed to maintain the storage, Bertrand said. He added that capacity to cost will continue to improve along with the increasing growth in data.
McNabb said it's not just low cost that's drawn him to tape -- it's also dependability.
"In my own experience, I've found LTO tapes to be incredibly reliable," he said. "They're sturdy and can withstand harsh environmental conditions, which is especially important for those who need to store data off site or in remote locations."
Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware and private clouds. He previously worked at StorageReview.com.