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Tape vs. disk: Which offers the greatest energy efficiency?

Jon Toigo looks at the factors that determine whether disk or tape is more energy-efficient.

Carbon content of energy production is the issue. Roughly 30% of U.S. energy is produced as a function of coal, burning coal, and around 12% is petroleum. Those are all greenhouse gases.

Even the people who are consoling themselves by saying "I'm driving an electric car," plug it into a wall where they're generating greenhouse gas to run the car.

When it comes to tape vs. disk, we see significant reduction -- up to 1,500 times less energy consumption with tape than a comparable storage array comprising disk. So you can get hundreds of petabytes of storage on a couple of raised floor tiles, minimal heating ventilation and air conditioning requirements, consuming less than eight light bulbs worth of electricity. That's green. That's making a meaningful dent in the energy consumption.

As an example of when tape was a better option than disk, a client told me the following anecdote. The FDA requires pharmaceutical companies to have all their clinical test trials in near-online states so they can access them via the Internet if that need ever arises. The client, who is in that industry, told me, 'Look, we've got more money than God. We own some patents on some significant medicines. We've got the biggest storage array in the world, but my data center is in Connecticut, and we can't get another lick of electricity dropped in because the grid there is saturated.'

So, they went with a tape solution and put all the clinical test trial data in an LTFS tape repository, a library that hardly ever gets used. They don't have to worry about dropping more electricity into their environment, and they are in compliance with that regulation.

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Do you consider capacity and energy consumption when choosing between tape and disk?
We take note of the significant reduction in energy consumption with tapes as compared to storage array disks which makes tapes resilient even in raised floor tiles and with minimal ventilation or air conditioning. With the current consumption of energy, it will be meaningful to consider using tapes even though they have low storage capacity. This means it depends with what we are dealing with. In case of high storages, we prefer disks over tapes.
With most data already online, it makes sense to go with the option that is cheaper, even for companies that don’t care about being green.