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LTO tapes show uptick in Q4 sales, but overall revenue falls

Sales of LTO tapes were up in Q4 of 2012, according to Santa Clara Consulting Group, although overall sales revenues continue to fall.

Sales of LTO tape cartridges were slightly up in the last quarter of 2012, according to Santa Clara Consulting Group, although overall sales revenues continue to fall.

The top player in linear tape open (LTO) tapes -- Hewlett-Packard (HP) -- held a 29% share of the market in Q4. Meanwhile, IBM and Fuji continued to jockey for second and third place over the course of 2012; Fuji was the second-largest supplier in Q1 and Q3, while IBM held the slot in the remaining quarters, the consulting firm reported.

LTO tapes represent nearly 93% of the more than $154 million in backup tape sales reported in Q4, the firm said. But that's still a drop from the same period in 2011, when tape sales totaled more than $187 million and LTO tapes alone brought in $168 million.

But tape has continued its decline in sales since at least 2007, when the tape industry collected about $2.28 billion. Two years later, tape sales dropped to $1.58 billion, and by 2011, tape was a $1.33 billion market, according to Santa Clara. Disk-to-disk backup is generally seen as the reason for the decline on tape's role in backing up data, as vendors promote disk-based backup's relative speed and other advantages over tape. Tape vendors, meanwhile, have made improvements to tape so data can be accessed more quickly and efficiently, such as the implementation of the Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which allows users to drag and drop files to and from tape in a manner similar to disk.

According to Santa Clara Consulting Group, total LTO sales were slightly up at 5.6 million units in Q4 of 2012, including an increase in sales of LTO-5 and LTO-4 tapes, which represented shares of 33% and 44% of sales, respectively. The older LTO-3 format saw sales decline by 12% and accounted for 18% of total sales. The firm previously reported that tape drive and media sales were a $1.33 billion market in 2011, with HP leading the LTO market with a 33.47% share, followed by Fuji at 17.27% and IBM at 14.72%.

The remaining backup tape formats include DDS/DAT, DLT and AIT. The biggest of these, DDS/DAT, brought in about $5.61 million, and HP holds 71% of that market. DLT -- including its DLT-S and DLT-V subformats -- brought in a total of about $2.41 million. HP leads the DLT-S segment, while Quantum leads the DLT-V segment.

But tape has some enthusiastic supporters in its corner who point to the medium's longevity, reliability and lower cost per unit of storage when compared to disk. And dumping tape for disk may be a "mistake" for some firms, according to a November 2012 brief from Enterprise Strategy Group analysts Mark Peters and Jane Wright. According to the brief, ESG surveyed 418 North American IT and data storage professionals from midmarket- and enterprise-class organizations, and found that 82% of respondents currently use tape technology in some form. About 16% said they don't use tape for data storage. The survey also found that only 15% of respondents said they would "continue to invest" in tape technology, and more than one-third said they planned to decrease their use of tape. Another 30% said they are "standing pat" with their existing tape implementation. ESG reported that the most common use for tape is storing data at an off-site location, but noted that tape could be used in other areas of storage, as well.

"Although it is rapidly being replaced as an on-site storage target by backup-to-disk solutions, tape's economics and portability make it ideal for off-site storage purposes, whether storing backup copies as part of a disaster recovery plan or satisfying long-term data retention requirements stemming from compliance mandates. Even users that are migrating less active data to cloud-based platforms must recognize that tape may, in fact, be the storage infrastructure of choice underlying the cloud services," according to the ESG brief.

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