Tape & Disk: Friendly Co-opetition?
As tape celebrates over 50 years in data storage, disk-to-disk backup is emerging as an attractive alternative to tape. How will these technologies fare in the future?
It's been over a half of a century since 3M's data storage division and IBM unveiled the first commercial magnetic tape and tape drive. Wound on a 12-inch reel, this tape offered a storage capacity slightly over 1 MB (similar to the capacity of today's diskette) and a transfer rate of 7.5 kilobits/second. According to Bill Monahan, chairman and CEO of Imation (the former data storage division of 3M), magnetic tape went on to replace punch cards as the method for storing digital data. Tape has come a long way since its inception. There are now multiple versions of tape such as AIT, DLT, DDS, and SuperDLT, LTO/Ultrium, and Travan. A small cartridge can store up to 320 GB of compressed data and offers a data transfer rate of 32 MB/second. With the continual advancements in tape technology, it's predicted that a cartridge could hold a terabyte or more of data in the next 10 years.
Disk-To-Disk Backup: A Threat To Tape?
However, tape is facing competition from serial ATA (advanced technology attachment) drives, say many analysts, including Gartner's John Malone. Serial ATA, more commonly called disk-to-disk backup, is becoming increasingly affordable for certain applications. Industry insiders like Bruce Backa, CTO of NTP Software, predict that tape sales for applications such as non-archival backup will decline as end users examine disk-to-disk backup. Fledgling storage companies, like Nexsan, helped pioneer disk technology. But established veterans like StorageTek have recently come to market with product - lending a lot of credibility to the technology.
Addressing Tape's Future
Members of the Tape Technology Council met to address the technology's past, present, and future at a roundtable, hosted a day before the 50th celebration at Imation's Camarillo, CA, manufacturing facility. On hand were executives from the member companies: EMTEC, Fujifilm, IBM, Imation, Maxell, Quantum, Seagate, Sony, StorageTek, and TDK, as well as storage analysts and media. The council was formed in the summer of 2002 to encourage cooperation among vendors in educating and growing tape markets. After lengthy discussions, vendors agreed that tape is still the most attractive option for traditional archiving. Tape's low cost and removable nature were two competitive advantages cited. However, a number admitted disk-to-disk backup is a competitive alternative for other storage applications.
Can Disk Help Tape?
Bob Abraham, an analyst with Freeman Reports, noted that in many installations, tape and disk could be used in conjunction for different storage requirements. He contended that increased adoption of disk-to-disk backup may even lead to increased tape sales. Steve Kenniston, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group, added that members' biggest challenge is to make tape backup a higher priority for corporate IT budgets. In the end, the council agreed to work to build more awareness of tape and its advantages over other technology alternatives, while also making cooperative efforts with disk vendors - a little friendly co-opetition (competition and cooperation).