Is tape backup dead?

We might make this blog into an annual feature: "Tape is dead 2018!"

Is tape dead? Is it really dead? For as long as we have been in business (since 2003) the headline "Tape is dead" has been a mainstay in the storage press and in the messaging of backup and archiving vendors.

If you take a trip on the Wayback Machine you can see that LiveVault was claiming "Tape backup is so last century" back in 2003 – a pretty bold assertion considering how few businesses had shifted to entirely disk-based backup at the time.

But, tape has been on a steady decline for years. In fact, our annual Data Health Check report, shows the use of tape as a primary backup method down to just 3% in 2016 from 16% in 2008.

2016 was actually the first year the figure hadn't fallen, which is possibly indicative of how stubborn some legacy systems, often populated with static compliance data can be.

The total use of tape - those not just using it as their primary method - has fallen from 42% of businesses to just 14% (again between 2008 and 2016). As a comparison the use of online or 'cloud' backup rose from 23-43% over that period.

So is it dead? For every news article about its demise, there is a corresponding announcement of advancements in capacity and speed. The LTO (Linear-Tape-Open) format ploughs forward with each new generation and a roadmap up to LTO-10 with a near 50TB capacity.

It is hard to argue with the price-capacity ratios that tape can offer, even compared with cold-storage disk options like AWS Glacier or Google Nearline. But it is hard to see tape making a comeback like vinyl. I can't quite imagine hipster IT Admins gathering round their tape drives like the kids do turntables.

Our answer for 2018? Not quite dead, but not far off. Even if all organisations choose to move away from tape, there will still be a few years left before it is cycled out of use altogether and you can completely recycle the tape drive.

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