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LTO-4 tape technology finally catching on -- tape storage isn't dead yet

Data storage pundits have been predicting the demise of tape storage for years, but LTO-4's increased popularity is proving tape isn't dead yet.

People in the data storage industry have been predicting tape storage's demise for years, but even with modern data backup technologies such as data deduplication and virtual tape libraries, tape remains ubiquitous in many large enterprises and SMBs for data backup and data retention. According to the spring 2009 Storage magazine/SearchStorage Purchasing Intentions survey, spending on LTO-4 tape adoption, the current generation of LTO tape, is up 33% after increasing 26% in the fall 2008 survey.

It's interesting that LTO-4 adoption is growing at such a rate, considering it has been on the market since early 2007. LTO-4 cartridges store up to 800 GB (1.6 TB compressed) of data with transfer rates of 240 MBps, and include built-in encryption (see "Utrium LTO six-generation roapmap" below).

Ultrium LTO six-generation roadmap








Compressed capacity

200 GB

400 GB

800 GB

1.6 TB

3.2 TB

6.4 TB

Compressed transfer rate

Up to 40 MBps

Up to 80 MBps

Up to 160 MBps

Up to 240 MBps

Up to 360 MBps

Up to 540 MBps















Source: The LTO Program

LTO-4 gets relatively little attention compared to deduplication and other disk-backup technologies, but evidence suggests tape and disk can happily co-exist for backups. A survey conducted by Fleishman-Hillard Research in the fourth quarter of 2008 of more than 200 network administrators and mid-level technology specialists at mid- to large-sized U.S. companies, found organizations are actually adding tape to what were previously disk-only backups. The survey said 60% will add tape back into their storage hierarchy, and nearly 40% of managers operating tape-only environments said they expect to increase the use of tape.

LTO-4 tape still going strong

Why the renewed interest in a so-called dying technology? "The encryption feature of LTO-4 technology appeals to a growing number of companies that are security-minded," said Pierre Dorion, data center practice director with Denver-based IT services firm Long View Systems Inc. "If they are going to keep shipping tapes offsite, encryption helps meet certain security requirements."

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The use of tape for archiving is also on the rise in many organizations because of compliance needs. "Further driven by compliance requirements, there is pressure on many companies, perhaps self inflicted, to archive more data and more data," Dorion said. "For many IT managers, it is still very hard to accept the fact that data stored on disk may never be accessed again; to many, this still seems like a very wasteful practice."

Geoff Mordock, a spokesman for the LTO Consortium, said another reason for tape's popularity is cost. And in today's recession, cost is surely on every storage manager's mind.

Mordock wrote in an email to SearchDataBackup, "Tape is the lowest cost form of digital storage. In a five-year TCO study comparing the costs of a SATA disk system vs. an LTO-4 tape library system for long-term data retention, the disk system was 23 times more costly than the tape system. In addition, tape's low energy consumption can help address green energy initiatives, delivering significant savings in energy costs over alternative data storage approaches."

Although LTO Consortium is hasn't announced specifications for LTO-5, the next generation of LTO tape, Mordock said, "The current roadmap lists capacity of up to 3.2 TB [assumes 2:1 compression] and increased transfer rates along with WORM and data encryption support."

Furthermore, Dorion added, "Tape will never catch up with disk in terms of performance and ease of use, but with the increased capacity and performance of LTO-4, tape is not light years behind. This allows the technology to remain a valid choice to many applications especially when it comes to long-term or non-critical backup storage media."

About this author: Heather Darcy is the Associate Site Editor for SearchDataBackup, SearchSMBStorage and

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