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LTO-8 tape standard to provide insurance against disaster

LTO-8 tape, the next-generation Linear Tape-Open standard, arrives at a fortuitous moment for organizations of all sizes looking to store and protect more data than ever.

This summer's weather disasters should have been a wake-up call about the need for a sensible business continuity strategy. But even now, several months later, recovery from flooding and infrastructure damage remains a slog.

Those who contented themselves with the nonsense that high-availability architecture is a substitute for good, old fashioned disaster recovery planning are behind the eight ball. So, too, are companies that used "cloud-based" disaster recovery services that were actually managed hosting shops located a few miles from their offices and subject to the same disaster.

The good news is technology does exist to make reliable copies of data and get them to distant off-site storage in an affordable way. I'm talking about tape, of course: Linear Tape-Open standard tape. It's compatible across virtually all libraries, regardless of manufacturer, and growing in terms of speeds and feeds, durability, longevity and capacity.

Some vendors are already talking about generation LTO-8, though LTO-7 hasn't run its course, and the LTO-8 tape drive isn't yet in mass production. Some say that LTO-8 caters to a niche market of large enterprises and industrial clouds. By contrast, LTO-7 may be the last iteration catering to small to medium-sized customers given its price point of about $100 per 6 TB cartridge (15 TB compressed).

LTO-8 not a niche market

The increased capacity of the LTO-8 tape drive, at 12.8 TB native and 32 TB compressed, and data throughput of 472 Mbps native and 1,180 Mbps compressed, should garner "No h8 for eight." (That's my meme, but you can use it if you want.) As for the "niche" thing, I must disagree.

The preponderance of data we generate today isn't the stuff of big data analytics.

First off, no business measures data storage in terabytes anymore. Even small ones handle hundreds of terabytes, or even petabytes, of storage. And larger companies that used to complain storage was out of hand in the tens of petabytes range are easily into exabyte-sized repositories today. The largest data producers and storage firms, according to IDC and others, exceed tens of zettabytes now, with analysts predicting 163 ZB of new data a year by 2025.

So LTO-8, with its 32 TB capacity, seems to be just what the doctor ordered for companies most likely to make big use of tape technology: cloudies and data-intensive verticals, such as healthcare, surveillance, research labs, and oil and gas. These firms are putting tape back to use in an old, secondary storage role.

Tape's special role

I know you've heard that tape doesn't meet the needs of active archives. I wrote a column on this topic recently for Storage magazine, and the answer is "Maybe, maybe not." But the truth remains that the preponderance of data we generate today isn't the stuff of big data analytics. Clouds want to sell "a big storage repository in the sky" to host all of the seldom accessed and never modified data consumers create with their million-megapixel phone cameras. Tape is the go-to technology for virtually all of those services now.

And getting large quantities of data to the cloud from the real world is going to require something besides expensive wires and fiber optic cables. Tape is a great mechanism for data transport without a WAN or metropolitan area network.

Eight is a special thing

Truth be told, the eight in LTO-8 is rich as a moniker. In the hard sciences, eight has many applications, ranging from being the method for describing particles in particle physics to the second magic number in nuclear physics. Eight is the number of vertices in a cube in geometry, and it's the first number that's neither prime nor semiprime in mathematics. It's the atomic number of oxygen, and in biology, it's part of the definition of the Arachnida and Octopoda classes of life. And, of course, in computer science, it's the foundation of the numbering system used to describe digital information itself -- 8 bits to a byte.

Eight holds meaning as the intersection of natural and supernatural among those who study numerology and religion. The Chinese equate eight with money and luck, spending inordinate amounts of money to obtain phone numbers with many eights in them. The old saw about the Beijing Olympics, that the opening ceremonies began precisely on Aug. 8, 2008, at eight minutes and eight seconds past 8 p.m. local time (Coordinated Universal Time+8), shows how important the lore of eight remains among a large segment of the world's population. Marketeers cater to such things. General Motors, for example, calls the minivan built for the Chinese market the Buick GL8, but gives the same product a different name in other countries.

To numerologists, eight is a karmic number, "What goes around comes around," as eight looks like the infinity symbol turned sideways. It symbolizes the accomplishment of goals while remaining generous and willing to take risks. In the religious realm, Eastern arts define eight paths to good or heaven, while Western faiths ascribe a lot of natural and supernatural interfaces to eight.

Whether or not you buy into the metaphysics of eight, LTO-8 does seem to have come at a fortuitous moment. We need its abundance -- another meaning ascribed to eight, in Hinduism -- and we need the luck that it might bring the next time a hurricane or other calamity strikes.

At a minimum, the luck of LTO-8 is tied to what it can do to lower the costs of storing zettabytes of data. A massive, multi-zettabyte tape repository will likely cost less than the energy costs alone for a repository with the same capacity based on disk or flash. The release of LTO-8 will provide yet another watershed in data storage capacity and cost.

Author's note: In my October column, I incorrectly reported that Quantum had departed from the tape storage market. Quantum continues to sell tape storage. I regret the error. Look for a deeper discussion of Quantum's outlook on tape technology and archiving in an upcoming column.

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Next Steps

Take a look at plans for LTO-10

How tape storage deals with the zettabyte apocalypse

The LTO Consortium and tape format development

Dig Deeper on Tape backup and tape libraries

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