Tape revenue falls, yet LTO-6 has higher adoption rate than LTO-5

Overall backup tape revenues continue to decline, but major tape manufacturers say the adoption rate for LTO-6 is higher than LTO-5.

While overall backup tape revenues appear to continue to be declining, the major manufacturers that produce tape media recently claimed that the adoption rate for the LTO-6 format is higher than for its predecessor.

According to the LTO Program Technology Provider Companies -- consisting of HP, IBM and Quantum -- LTO-6 products have been available since the fourth quarter of last year and support a tape cartridge capacity of up to 6.25 TB, a figure the group said is twice the size of the compressed capacity of the previous generation of the LTO format.

The group said that about 4.4 million LTO drives and about 225 million LTO cartridges were sold since the linear tape open format was launched in 2000. Last year, the industry group reported that about 4 million LTO drives and an estimated 200 million LTO cartridges were sold since the beginning of the format.

The industry group did not give specific figures for the adoption rate of the LTO-6 format.

However, revenues for backup tape continue to decline, according to data published by Santa Clara Consulting Group, which reported that tape revenue declined by more than half since 2007, falling from about $2.28 billion to $1.06 billion in 2012.

The consulting group reported a lower figure than the industry group for the number of LTO cartridges sold in 2012: about 22.87 million, which was a 4.37% drop from the previous year.

Two of the LTO Program Technology Provider Companies -- HP and IBM -- have a combined 48.47% share of the LTO media market, according to data from Santa Clara. LTO-6 was launched late last year, so older LTO formats still dominated that space in sales: LTO-4 led with 43.72% of sales; LTO-5 was in second place, with 28.28% of sales; and LTO-3 rounded out the top three with 21.53% of sales, according to the research firm.

Ben Woo, managing director at Neuralytix, said it is not surprising that adoption of LTO-6 is higher than its predecessors', because earlier versions of the format faced more competition from other tape technologies.

LTO accounted for about 91.5% of tape cartridge revenues in 2012, or about $608.9 million, based upon data from Santa Clara Consulting.

Woo said that looking at tape revenue figures as a guide results in a "completely false" representation of the market, and that while revenues have dropped, the capacity of tape technology has increased.

"There is no question that the overall tape revenue is on a very slow decline. But those reports must be put into context," Woo said. "Although tape revenue is declining ever so slowly (around 1% per year), the amount of capacity that goes out is almost doubling."

Woo said that while there is "excitement" for cloud-based backup and data restores, tape has abilities not offered by cloud backup.

"Tape is a much more portable medium. Only tape offers the benefit of being offsite and offline, both of which are increasing requirements in some regulated industries. The cloud cannot offer that," Woo said.

He also said that tape is comparatively faster than backing up or restoring terabytes of data over a wire or using a cloud.

"Unfortunately, the excitement about cloud-everything is going to hamper their story," Woo said, referring to LTO backers.

Instead, what the backers of LTO could focus on are what Woo referred to as "enabling technologies" -- such as Linear Tape File System to demonstrate that tape is equally as useful as other backup technologies.

Ultimately, whether tape or cloud is best for users could be determined by which technology meets their needs.

Woo said that users need to review their backup goals and the cost per unit of storage and determine whether they intend to back up or archive data.

"By understanding these distinctions, users will quickly recognize the need for both technologies and where each technology will be best suited for the job," Woo said.

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