O n March 23rd, Storage Newsletter published an article that referenced the amount of LTO storage capacity shipped in 2015, and that the LTO capacity shipped actually increased by about 18% versus the prior year.  These figures are based on a report that was published by the LTO consortium, and the report also indicated that more than 385,000 PB of total data capacity has been shipped since the introduction of LTO Ultrium cartridges in 2000.

The article goes on to discuss some of the trends underlying this metric, and other metrics such as LTO cartridges shipped, as well as LTO cartridge revenue, including:

  • LTO capacity shipped increased in 2015 – of course driven by larger cartridge capacity of LTO-7 and LTO-6. (As a side note, Quantum’s customers are adopting LTO-7 even faster than LTO-6, based on the dramatic capacity and performance improvements that we’ve delivered to market.)
  • Total cartridge shipments declined – cartridge volume has been declining and I’d expect will continue to decline.

So clearly more data is being stored on tape, and more data is being stored on fewer tapes – which is great!

But I think the metrics and the article miss a key trend in the tape industry which Quantum is seeing in our business results. It’s a trend that shows an interesting growth opportunity for tape.

Tape’s Use for Backup is Declining, but Its Use for Archive is Growing

The article mentions that tape is used for “archiving only.”  I disagree.  The majority of tape is still used for long term retention of backup data, primarily for compliance or disaster recovery, but this is different from archiving, and certainly the use of tape in this use case is declining.

I’ll explain. Tape’s use with backup applications continues to decline, being largely replaced by deduplication appliances, or with new cloud-based DR offerings like Q-Cloud Protect.  Tape is rarely 100% eliminated, but for backup and DR many customers are minimizing the tape they use, and consolidating it in their core datacenters.  Tape is used for long term retention, and for an offline copy that is not susceptible to online virus threats.  Tape is still great for data protection, but customers need a lot less of it than they use to need.

Now let’s talk about archive storage.  I’m not talking about backup tapes at Iron Mountain.  I’m talking about use cases like:

  • Long term storage of rich media content in industries like broadcast and post production.
  • Long term storage of PB-scale video surveillance footage: In this industry, as cameras move to HD, retention times are dramatically increasing, and companies will want to perform analytics on the surveillance footage that is captured.
  • PB-scale archiving of images, research data, and lots of other general unstructured data content. We’re seeing growth of tape in these use cases in many industries.
  • Exabyte and Zettabyte-scale storage in massive cloud datacenters. This article from October of 2015 does an excellent job of explaining this use case.

In all of these types of ‘archives,’ the key difference is that the archived content remains accessible to the users even after the data has been moved off of primary storage.  And in many cases the data is stored on tape, which is why tape is actually growing in all of these use cases, since it is still the lowest cost, lowest power, highly reliable storage option.

That’s why I think 385,000 PB is only the beginning…

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