Is Tape Dead?

Baltazar: Maybe not, but near-line storage makes more sense

In response to my recent data protection article, I got a couple of really persuasive letters from readers suggesting that tape has lost its place as a backup medium and that I had wasted my time doing a tape roundup story.

While I am not ready to engrave a tombstone for tape, there are definitely a few good reasons why either hard drives or optical drives may wind up being the future of backups.

First of all, hard drive backups, which many are calling disk-to-disk backups, can be mounted on demand, making the painful task of restoring quick and painless.

Anyone who has had to do a full restore, complete with incremental tapes, knows that the restore process required for tapes can be complex and time-consuming. With downtime being the chief enemy of any IT managers, near-line solutions like optical and hard-drive-based backups are becoming more popular, especially to companies that cant deal with large amount of downtime during the business day.

With the emergence of continuous backup solutions like StorageTeks EchoView line, IT managers might decide the level of protection they get from disk is now better than tape.

Since these solutions capture all transactions and file creation events when they are created—as opposed to tape backups, which preserve data at specific points of time—some shops may lean toward continuous backup solutions, especially for transaction-oriented applications such as databases.

One of my readers lamented the unreliability of the tape medium. While I personally have not been burned many times by bad tape media, I acknowledge that tapes have the ability to be faulty from time to time. This is more likely to happen if an IT manager neglects to keep tape drive heads clean or stores tapes in less-than-ideal conditions.

Long-term storage of tape may also prove to be problematic. Although tapes are known to last for dozens of years in storage, the drives needed to read them might not have the same longevity. Even scarier, if a tape vendor dies off, you could be stuck with an unsupported mountain of tapes.

Tape is probably not dead, but I do believe that data protection has evolved to make near-line storage more important and make tapes less so.

Do you believe tape is dead? Let me know at