Zombie Technology Life after Death Tape Is Still Alive

July 24, 2017 – 1:47 pm

Zombie Technology Life after Death Tape Is Still Alive

server storage I/O data infrastructure trends

A Zombie Technology is one declared dead yet has Life after Death such as Tape which is still alive.

zombie technology
Image via StorageIO.com (licensed for use from Shutterstock.com)

Tapes Evolving Role

Sure we have heard for decade’s about the death of tape, and someday it will be dead and buried (I mean really dead), no longer used, buried, existing only in museums. Granted tape has been on the decline for some time, and even with many vendors exiting the marketplace, there remains continued development and demand within various data infrastructure environments, including software defined as well as legacy.

data infrastructures

Tape remains viable for some environments as part of an overall memory data storage hierarchy including as a portability (transportable) as well as bulk storage medium.

memory data storage hirearchy classes tiers

Keep in mind that tapes role as a data storage medium also continues to change as does its location. The following table (via Software Defined Data Infrastructure Essentials (CRC Press)) Chapter 10 shows examples of various data movements from source to destination. These movements include migration, replication, clones, mirroring, and backup, copies, among others. The source device can be a block LUN, volume, partition, physical or virtual drive, HDD or SSD, as well as a file system, object, or blob container or bucket. An example of the modes in Table 10.1 include D2D backup from local to local (or remote) disk (HDD or SSD) storage or D2D2D copy from local to local storage, then to the remote.

Mode – Description
D2D – Data gets copied (moved, migrated, replicated, cloned, backed up) from source storage (HDD or SSD) to another device or disk (HDD or SSD)-based device
D2C – Data gets copied from a source device to a cloud device.
D2T – Data gets copied from a source device to a tape device (drive or library).
D2D2D – Data gets copied from a source device to another device, and then to another device.
D2D2T – Data gets copied from a source device to another device, then to tape.
D2D2C   Data gets copied from a source device to another device, then to cloud.
Data Movement Modes from Source to Destination

Note that movement from source to the target can be a copy, rsync, backup, replicate, snapshot, clone, robocopy among many other actions. Also, note that in the earlier examples there are occurrences of tape existing in clouds (e.g. its place) and use changing.  Tip – In the past, “disk” usually referred to HDD. Today, however, it can also mean SSD. Think of D2D as not being just HDD to HDD, as it can also be SSD to SSD, Flash to Flash (F2F), or S2S among many other variations if you prefer (or needed).

tape storage
Image via Tapestorage.org

For those still interested in tape, check out the Active Archive Alliance recent posts (here), as well as the 2017 Tape Storage Council Memo and State of their industry report (here). While lower end-tape such as LTO (which is not exactly the low-end it was a decade or so ago) continues to evolve, things may not be as persistent for tape at the high-end. With Oracle (via its Sun/StorageTek acquisition) exiting the high-end (e.g. Mainframe focused) tape business, that leaves mainly IBM as a technology provider.

Tape Storage In Use
Image via Tapestorage.org

With a single tape device (e.g. drive) vendor at the high-end, that could be the signal for many organizations that it is time to finally either move from tape or at least to LTO (linear tape open) as a stepping stone (e.g. phased migration). The reason not being technical rather business in that many organizations need to have a secondary or competitive offering or go through an exception process.

On the other hand, just as many exited the IBM mainframe server market (e.g. Fujitsu/Amdahl, HDS, NEC), big blue (e.g. IBM) continues to innovate and drive both revenue and margin from those platforms (hardware, software, and services). This leads me to believe that IBM will do what it can to keep its high-end tape customers supported while also providing alternative options.

Where To Learn More

Learn more about related technology, trends, tools, techniques, and tips with the following links.

What This All Means

I would not schedule the last tape funeral just yet, granted there will continue to be periodic wakes and send off over the coming decade. Tape remains for some environments a viable data storage option when used in new ways, as well as new locations complementing flash SSD and other persistent memories aka storage class memories along with HDD.

Personally, I have been directly tape free for over 14 years. Granted, I have data in some clouds and object storage that may exist on a very cold data storage tier possibly maybe on tape that is transparent to my use. However just because I do not physically have tape, does not mean I do not see the need why others still have to or prefer to use it for different needs.

Also, keep in mind that tape continues to be used as an economic data transport for bulk movement of data for some environments. Meanwhile for those who only want, need or wish tape to finally go away, close your eyes, click your heels together and repeat your favorite tape is not alive chant three (or more) times. Keep in mind that HDDs are keeping tape alive by off loading some functions, while SSDs are keeping HDDs alive handling tasks formerly done by spinning media. Meanwhile, tape can and is still called upon by some organizations to protect or enable bulk recovery for SSD and HDDs even in cloud environments, granted in new different ways.

What this all means is that as a zombie technology having been declared dead for decades yet still live there is life after death for tape, which is still alive, for now.

Ok, nuff said (for now…).


Greg Schulz – Multi-year Microsoft MVP Cloud and Data Center Management, VMware vExpert (and vSAN). Author of Software Defined Data Infrastructure Essentials (CRC Press), as well as Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press), Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier) and twitter @storageio.

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