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LTO Technology Offers Clear Advantages in Cost and Capacity Over Disk

Tape Roadmap - INSIC Report

LTO tape technology is expected to remain significantly less expensive than hard disk storage for years to come, according to IDC. A separate Economic Validation Study by ESG found that an LTO-8 solution provides an expected total cost of ownership that is 86% lower than an all-disk solution over a 10-year period. The 2019 Applications & Systems Tape Roadmap published by the Information Storage Industry Consortium (INSIC) further validated LTO tape technology’s advantages over hard disk, including its potential for advancing tape technology and growing the capacity of tape cartridges up to the projections outlined by LTO roadmap.

Tape, due to its portability functionality, may not have the same issues as physical drive failures. Even if reading data from a tape results in a hard error with a given drive, it can still be played in another drive, which in most cases, will result in full recovery of the data, making it more reliable than disk.

With the digital data explosion that has yet to be subdued, the INSIC Roadmap identified multiple drivers of this continued growth which will require long-term data retention, providing LTO tape with new use cases and applications to fulfill well into the future. You can review findings from the full report here.

Executive Summary:

The Information Storage Industry Consortium (INSIC) 2019 roadmap contains quite a few updates over the previous INSIC roadmap. This document was created in a collaborative fashion by many dedicated individuals, and represents their expertise and data gathered from interviews of analysts and experts in the field. At the end of this executive summary, we have included some notable quotes that summarize the themes of the 2019 roadmap.

The key points in the roadmap include:

  • Compared to hard disk, the current track density of tape is lower by a factor of 50 to 100, providing the greatest potential leverage for advancing tape technology and growing the capacity of tape cartridges. In other words, advancing tape technology in the future faces much less technical risk than disk technology.
  • There is a general shift of tape use from short-term backup towards long-term archive. Tape is playing a key role in some of the largest, high-growth archive use cases, which are highlighted in this report.
  • This roadmap now incorporates technology advances such as tape tension control and tension effects on Tape Dimensional Stability. This new capability is very important to enabling higher tape capacities.
  • For the first time, the roadmap includes a projected scaling rate for the Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate of tape. Providing this information allows for easier comparison to other storage technologies and highlights a very significant advantage over disk technology.
  • At the end of year 2029, the tape roadmap still has a bit aspect ratio of about 2 times where disk is today, providing significant margin for future advancement of tape technology.

The inherent, fundamental advantages of tape continue to be its low acquisition cost, extremely low power consumption and cooling requirements, excellent footprint, scalability, and of course, reliability. Other attributes that can be significant are tape’s offline data protection and portability. The dramatic increase in malware / ransomware in the market has driven more demand for offline storage, including tape, which provides significant protection from cyberattacks. Tape’s future is driven by the needs of multiple markets and use cases where these attributes are important. In short, tape is best for applications that do not require fast access, so in essence, the opposite end of the spectrum of flash applications.

Tape has made significant progress in multiple, very large, high-growth archive markets. While these markets have very different applications that create and access the data, they all present very large-scale, high-growth storage requirements where tape provides a huge advantage over any other technology today or in the foreseeable future. Solutions typically involve tiered storage that includes flash and/or disk along with tape, but tape is the key technology of choice for vast amounts of storage for each of these markets as evidenced in this report.

Much continues to be written about the other end of the spectrum where high IOPs and cost per IOP is king, and where flash adoption is growing rapidly and displacing disk. However, the archive market segments identified above present some of the largest and fastest growing markets for any storage technology. Tape is well positioned for each of those markets today and for the future.


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