February 21, 2006 7:21 AM PST

Sun: Tape storage evolving, not dead

Magnetic tape data storage may have been around for more than half a century, but systems administrators will be stuck with it for some time, according to one of Sun Microsystems' top storage executives.

"Tape's going to be around for a long time," Randy Kearns, vice president of Sun's new Data Management Group, said in the wake of the finalization of Sun's $4.1 billion acquisition of primarily tape-focused vendor StorageTek.

However, Kearns is seeing changing patterns of usage for the venerable sequential-access medium, which is primarily used for backing up data stored on servers.

The changes come as organizations are faced with an increasing need to comply with government regulations dealing with short- and long-term storage of company records.

"Customers are changing the way they do backups.

"Tapes aren't going to be the backup medium of choice, but they're going to be the long-term retention medium of choice.

"It's going to be the archives, and it's going to be the generational copies that they never get back," Kearns said.

He claimed that customers have started to use disk-based systems for their daily backup needs. "You always thought about tape for backup, but that's going to be more other technologies, disk-to-disk stuff, and continuous data protection stuff," the United States-based executive told ZDNet Australia. He was in Melbourne to speak with partners, customers and staff last week.

The disk migration, Kearns said, had probably begun about two years ago, when high-speed and Serial ATA, or SATA drives hit the market, "establishing a new price point for disk."

"It's been going on, and we're seeing different solutions, certainly disk-to-disk stuff has been a big deal," Kearns said. "But now we're starting to see some continuous backup products out on the market...things where we just keep track of changes and keep multiple generational backups--being able to establish a recovery time objective."

The new systems have some drawbacks: They take up a lot of energy and consequently aren't economical for data that doesn't need to be accessed frequently.

"What we're seeing is that (tape's) still the most economical and environmentally friendly long-term storage," Kearns said. "If you're spinning disk and things like that, the power consumption and volumetric issues and so on are onerous."

Automation may also play a bigger part in future.

"Tape automation is really going to be the main thing, in that you're going to see big libraries, the robotics in them to handle tapes, so we get the human element out as much as possible," Kearns said.

According to the Sun executive, the death of tape has been predicted falsely now for some time.

"I worked at IBM a long time, and I think it was 1974 that I was working in their general practice division in Colorado," Kearns recalled. "The head of the general practice division said to us in an all-hands meeting there that IBM believes that tape is dead and (that) we should be getting out of tape."

"IBM did indeed get out of tape, and that's what made StorageTek successful," Kearns said. "Then IBM got back into tape, and now they're No. 2 in the tape business, and StorageTek is No. 1.

"So tapes are going to be around for a long time. The roles are going to be a little different and changing, but that's just the way it is."

Renai LeMay of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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StorageTek, tape storage, Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., tape

10 comments

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Cheap & Longlasting?
Tapes could be quite good at home: I'd gladly used them for home backup.

But at moment, cheapest drive costs about $300-400 and good tapes are still at $1 per 1GB.

Even IOmega's REV doesn't break the price balance: the drive costs about $200-250 and REV disk costs about $35 for 40GB. The same stuff, thou w/o any kind of guearanties about long-term future. The IOmega site is silent on how long can the disk and info on it last.

I wanted to buy tape system to home, but as it stands at moment, DVD-R medium is still about 4 times cheaper. And DVD-R from good brand would last about the same time as cheap tape...

P.S. eBay'ing is an option, thou if one cares about her/his data, s/he would definitely try to buy brand new.
P.P.S. Funnily enough, the situation in office is about the same: tapes are slowly moving out.
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Most eBay tape drives don't have software
I'd like to get a used tape drive from eBay but few have software. Otherwise, backing up everything to 80gb tapes would be great.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Link Flag
for home
Don't put off making backups because tape drives are too expensive! Buy an external hard disk and backup now. Some Maxtor models even come with a version of Retrospect, or just use the backup utility built into Windows. If you're worried about your data going bad on two drives at the exact same time (which will never happen) just get two external drives or one with RAID built into it.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Tape is the way to go
How would you store a 100GB backup on CD or DVD's?

Also what is the lifespan of those things anyway

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.otherthingsnow.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.otherthingsnow.blogspot.com</a>
Posted by SqlserverCode (165 comments )
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Re: Tape is the way to go
We switched from tape to disk a couple of years ago when our "daily" backup to tape time began to approach 24 hours.

Using rsync we now "freshen" our backup drives 4 times a day so a worse case failure would only cost us 6 hours of data (a very acceptable amount in our business). We then archive to portable firewire drives and DVD.

Tape, IMO, is only for companies with small backup requirements, or those with extreme requirements where cost of the big robots can be justified.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
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2 rolls of thin flat film in a casing
tape is like the proverbial grandfather's favorite axe, i.e. he replaced the head twice and the handle three times but it's still his favorite axe. what is the most efficient way to hold a massive surface area of thin flat film while still allowing the surface to be accessed sequentially? well, i can't think of anything better than 2 rolls held together by a casing.

tape is dead. long live tape.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How do you MOVE disk drives offsite?
Yes, I agree that tape is here to stay. Disk storage is nice, but when you have a large environment ( I backup 1000+ disks that range from 6 to 1500 Gigs, each night), you need to move the backups OFF-SITE to ensure that a building loss won't become a business loss. A. You can't move that much disk without serious damage. B.You can't let disk drives sit for months or years without mechanical problems (stiction,out-gassing,bearing corrosion) becoming an issue. C. You can't afford a pipe (I run 14 tape drives at 2100 Gigabytes per hour - that would take 2 OC-48 Pipes to move that much! Ever price big pipes? Try it, and you will see that Tape and a good support company like Ixxx Mxxxxxx that picks up, stores and delivers those tapes works very cost effectively.
and finally, don't think they last forever. You should read back, and upgrade to new technology with tape, disk, dvd or whatever. Thinking that you are going to recovery 10 or 20 year old data is DREAMING! Back to my Backups...
Posted by NONOBADBOY (1 comment )
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Tape is dead. The only decent thing to do at this point is to give it a proper burial and talk well of the good old days.

How do you MOVE disk drives offsite? A compressed copy my man. Since computers are a lot like free laborers, get them to do the work. Automate an rsync backup, tgz it, then copy it to an external drive. TB drives are cheap and plentiful. Do some nosing around the HP and Dell have some cool stuff. Look up the RD1000. HP has something similar, with almost the same model number.

Here's the formula: if you can put it on tape - you can put it on HDDs. There's no tape in existence with a higher capacity than a HDD. Here's the second part of the formula: while you're paying a premium for less capacity, you are also losing time, the one non-renewable resource we all wish we had more of. Tape is slow, but on the other hand, it is expensive.

Drives go bad. Yes, but so does tape. IMHO I'll take an aluminum plate over a thin piece of plastic any day. It's the stuff you wrap hard candy in. How can this also be good for archiving? Especially in cold weather, transported in the back of a truck to the archival site. Here's a test for you: take a yearly backup, put it on a delivery truck in the middle of January in cold state. Then, 3 years later, ask the people in the bonded warehouse to send it back to you in the middle of the summer. Tell me what you get. What I got was a tape backup drive full of dust. Bad mojo my man.

We should all do the sane thing and turn our backs on it. If Randy Kearns wanted to do something more meaningful with his career he should divert attention and funding away from the Sun Modular Datacenter (which could only have federal or tatanic corporate application) and focus on the future of backups. Developing something that is hi-density, ultra-portable, and will last forever. Sun isn't lacking talent or resources, they are only lacking vision.

Don't mourn the death of tape, be happy that it has moved on to a happier and less economically viable place.
Posted by todd_dsm (1 comment )
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