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Talking magnetic tape for storage with Quantum

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Mark Pastor of Quantum speaks in this Q&A about tape's advancements and uses, as well as challenges in the market, including 'old perceptions' of tape.

For several important uses, it's still tape after all these years.

Organizations are embracing magnetic tape for storage thanks to a variety of reasons, including long-term retention and protection from ransomware, said Mark Pastor, director of product management at Quantum Corp., in this podcast with SearchDataBackup.

For IT pros who haven't looked at tape in a while, it's a "really good time" to look again.

"They may be surprised at how well we've addressed some of the things that may not have been ideal about using tape in the past," Pastor said.

For example, the technology has become more "hands-off" and easier to manage.

Keeping data safe from cyberthreats such as ransomware is a new use of magnetic tape for storage.

"At first, I was surprised to see how prevalent that ransomware is, but, then, I'm also now very pleased to see that a lot of customers and enterprises are very tuned into it," Pastor said. "I think they are now recognizing [that] having an offline copy of data is very important."

The tape industry ran into a roadblock recently, when a lawsuit between manufacturers Fujifilm and Sony held up production of LTO-8, which was supposed to hit the market in late 2017. The manufacturers reached an agreement and vendors such as Quantum are now selling LTO-8.

LTO roadmap chart
The LTO roadmap stretches out to a generation that offers nearly half a petabyte of compressed storage on one tape.

"I think it was a lesson learned from all of us that are participating actively as suppliers to the marketplace to take steps to avoid that happening in the future," Pastor said. "I'm glad it's behind us and we're seeing tremendous pent-up demand for LTO-8."

To learn more about how the industry is rebounding, the potential uses of magnetic tape for storage and what to expect in the future, listen to the podcast above and read the transcript below.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and condensed.

Transcript - Talking magnetic tape for storage with Quantum

What are some of the latest enhancements in tape products, and how can they help data storage and protection?

Mark Pastor: The technology continues to advance. You always see newer generations of magnetic tape recording, as evidenced by the long LTO roadmap, which is what Quantum participates very directly with. We've continued to see improved storage density and the cost per terabyte continues to go down because of that.

The other thing that we've seen is there's been a bit of an inflection in the marketplace where tape has become more broadly adopted with some of the very large cloud providers. Through a lot of analysis on their side, they realized that tape is absolutely the most economical kind of medium for long-term storage or archive. That's driven a lot of innovation on the tape product side, in terms of hands-off operation, more self-healing technology, improved diagnostics, remote management and operational services.

The tape industry has benefited a lot by the resurgence and interest because of the very large institutions that are now buying tape for a big piece of their business.

You mentioned cloud providers are using tape. Beyond the economic aspect, what are some other reasons why they're going to magnetic tape for storage?

Pastor: Economics is clearly the primary driver. Tape also offers high durability. You can put data on tape, and if it's maintained properly, the media suppliers will say that the data can stay on tape for 30 plus years. Anybody who's looking for long-term retention can put tape in the proper environment and, with the appropriate technologies, can monitor data integrity over time.

You touched on it a bit already, but what are some of the best use cases of tape, especially the newer tape products like LTO-8? What are you seeing as the top types of businesses using tape?

Pastor: Service providers are using tape because of the types of things that we talked about. Large enterprises as well are looking to set up their own sort of private cloud services and have their users be able to retain data for long periods of time. So this whole notion of long-term retention and archive is clearly one of the sweet spots for tape.

The other thing that has happened is the occurrence of ransomware, which has really created an opportunity for tape. I'm always amazed at how many reports of ransomware I see. One of the reasons tape is good to address that threat is because it is very conveniently held as an offline copy of data. It's more difficult for ransomware attacks to come in and encrypt data or prevent access to data. If you've got your data sitting on an offline copy on tape, it's more difficult for ransomware to stand in your way. Ransomware has spawned a lot of interest in tape as part of the data protection scheme in enterprises.

Now, even with the benefits that you've mentioned already, there are always going to be some tape naysayers among IT pros. How can you change some of the more common misconceptions of tape?

Pastor: There's old perceptions of tape. We've seen a lot of innovation going into tape products now that have made tape a lot easier to use. There's a lot more innovation and intelligence in tape automation offerings and libraries, and Quantum participates very actively here. We're always looking at ways to improve the user experience and having tape library management be as hands-off as possible.

There are a lot more remote management capabilities, there's even a lot of professional services or operational services that are now available to users who may not have wanted to take on the physical action of managing tape libraries.

So what I might say to some of the IT pros is, if you haven't looked at tape in a while, it's probably a really good time to look at it again because they may be surprised at how well we've addressed some of the things that may not have been ideal about using tape in the past.

There are some challenges in the market. For example, the recent lawsuit between Fujifilm and Sony held up production of LTO-8 tapes for a while. How much harm do you think that issue created and how can the industry rebound from something like that?

Pastor: I've been feeling all of that over the past year or so as that's been going on.

No. 1, hopefully everybody understands, I'm pleased to say that we've gotten through that. Fujifilm and Sony have resolved their differences in the form of an agreement and they're both now producing LTO-8, as well as all the other generations that are active in the industry.

I think it's done harm to the vendors that are participating in the marketplace, including the media vendors -- Sony and Fujifilm. The experience woke up everybody to say, 'Let's figure out how to resolve our differences now so that we don't have to do that again.'

In terms of harm to the industry, yes, customers were frustrated, and it's a shame that we couldn't have been delivering LTO-8 technology much over the past 12 months. But one of the things that the LTO Consortium did in anticipation of this is we created the LTO-7 Type M format. That allowed us to use existing LTO-7 media to increase the capacity by 50%, so instead of 6 TB per cartridge, the Type M format allows 9 TB per cartridge. I think that helped mitigate a lot of the pain that customers in the industry would have otherwise felt.

It was a lesson learned for all of us that are participating actively as suppliers to the marketplace to take steps to avoid that happening in the future. I'm glad it's behind us and we're seeing tremendous, pent-up demand for LTO-8 and LTO in general. The industry's rebounding and hopefully there's no long-term harm to the industry.

Did you find that many customers were taking advantage of that LTO-7 Type M capability?

Pastor: Yes, it was very popular.

And is Quantum selling the LTO-8 media yet?

Pastor: We are.

You mentioned the pent-up demand: Have you found orders are coming in at a pace you'd like to see at this point?

Pastor: Demand is very strong. We're starting out with a very strong backlog. Demand is what we anticipated it to be and the rebound is very strong at this point in time. LTO-8 is going to have some healthy life to it moving forward.

What else is Quantum working on, specifically in the area of magnetic tape for storage?

Pastor: We've learned a lot from our involvement with the very large cloud providers who have invested a tremendous amount in evaluating how to make tape be the absolute best it can, for the use case of particularly the long-term low-cost storage. As part of that, we have better ideas in terms of how we can bring some of those capabilities down into the broader part of the marketplace and into enterprises in general.

One of the good things about Quantum is we have a quite a broad portfolio. We have our StorNext technology, which is an excellent software platform that we can put as a front end to tape systems. And we can actually put a lot of things in StorNext to better manage tape and the collection of multiple libraries for larger environments. It could provide better durability and data integrity checking and things like that.

Quantum is in a pretty good position to be able to offer an end-to-end platform that includes tape on the back end for long-term retention uses. We're learning a lot from our very large customers and integrating that into our products in general.

On a more general note, what do you think data protection customers and data storage customers need most now?

Pastor: One of the reasons why public cloud infrastructure is so appealing is I think customers really like the ability to have technology that's easier to manage. That's one of the key benefits they get when they consider infrastructure in the cloud.

They like the ability to flex their usage and their investment. If we can help customers find ways of having similar ease of use that may not need to take advantage of public cloud, that can be helpful. As I mentioned before, what we're offering a lot more now is operational services models where we can actually help customers manage their infrastructure.

Finding ways to manage your own infrastructure as easily as a public cloud infrastructure can be the best of both worlds. It can give you all the benefits of on-premises performance with the reduced cost of not having it always be in the cloud as part of an infrastructure that you're constantly paying for.

Looking ahead a bit more, there's a roadmap for LTO media that stretches out a few more generations. What else can tape users expect in the field in the coming years?

Pastor: We're going to continue to push the density per cartridge as part of the roadmap.

You're going to see offerings both mechanical and hardware as well as software that surround tape. There will be evolution in those areas to help customers use tape technology even more effectively. You'll see the technology develop and I think you'll see the tools around the technology develop as well.

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