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LTO tape shipments set another capacity record

The capacity of LTO tape breaks records yet again in annual shipments, but it might be the increase in density more than new customers and use cases.

For the third year in a row, Linear Tape-Open technology set another record shipment, as the recently released numbers from 2023 show the storage media continues to be strong.

The LTO Program, which tracks annual shipments, reported that 152.9 exabytes of tape shipped last year -- more than a 3% increase over 2022's 148.3 exabytes. Since 1997, LTO has been an open-format storage medium relying on magnetic tape and compression for high capacity.

Tape is an older technology, but it clearly isn't going away, even finding a role for cloud providers, according to Ashish Nadkarni, an analyst at IDC.

"Whoever wrote the obituary for tape is probably regretting it," he said.

There is a direct correlation between primary and secondary storage needs and the capacity for tape, Nadkarni said. As general storage needs increase, so will the need for media such as tape.

More data or newer generation

Data from the LTO Program, a joint effort of several vendors to deliver the LTO format, including HPE, IBM and Quantum, shows a 3.14% shipment increase compared with last year's 0.002% increase. However, the LTO Program did not provide information on the number of or generation of tape cartridges shipped, which likely means the significant increase had more to do with denser tapes than actual demand, according to Greg Macatee, an analyst at IDC.

"Where that growth is coming from is a shift in the generations rather than some kind of major influx of new buyers," he said.

Released in 2021, LTO-9 brought a 50% capacity boost over LTO-8, released in 2017, and a 300% boost over LTO-7, released two years prior in 2015, Macatee said. As customers refresh their tape to newer versions, it will automatically result in more exabytes shipped.

Tape is a cost-effective, eco-friendly, long-term retention media. Companies have returned to using it for archival needs rather than as a backup target given the growth of data they're now managing, according to Jerome Wendt, CEO and founder of analyst firm Data Center Intelligence Group.

"Tape is finally back to doing what tape does best," he said.

Tape for AI

Aside from tape cartridges getting denser, the LTO Program pointed to advancements in technologies, specifically AI, as a reason more storage, including tape, will be needed going forward.

Customers are still in the early stages of AI adoption and what that might mean for storage needs, according to Macatee.

Whoever wrote the obituary for tape is probably regretting it.
Ashish NadkarniAnalyst, IDC

"Most buyers are at the kind of try it out/figure it out [phase] up in the cloud," he said.

While tape is a good storage target for unstructured data generated by AI, customers are not at that point yet, Macatee said.

Tape could have a role in AI training down the road, Wendt said. Right now, data on tape is largely kept for compliance reasons or because it's cost effective.

"If they can glean something out of all these old tapes, then they become much more valuable," he said.

For that to happen, tape data would have to be indexed, Wendt said. When the time comes, the expertise to set up tapes in an efficient way to extract that data, potentially for training, already exists.

"It can have a lot of value for the hyperscalers, as far as understating it, and it'll probably be a value add for their customers," he said.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware and private clouds. He previously worked at

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