The tape versus disk storage debate is one of the IT industry's longest-running disputes. But, according to several channel onlookers, it might be time to call a truce.
In the past, the storage channel has pitted the technologies against each other in areas such as cost,
reliability and ease of management. And, with the drop-off in demand for tape storage in recent years, it is an argument that many assume has been won by disk storage.
This is not a view shared by tape storage consortium, Ultrium-LTO Technology, whose founder members include HP, IBM and Quantum.
Bruce Masters, IBM senior programme manager and Ultrium-LTO representative, explained: "There are those that believe tape is dead. The people saying that are typically vendors that do not have it in their product portfolios."
The technology has fallen out of favour in recent years, he admitted, but it is starting to claw its way back into the affections of end users.
"We have seen lots of customers who moved away from tape to pure disk-to-disk systems, regret it and then come back," explained Masters.
He cites the low cost and the increasing capacity of data tapes as a key factor in the technology's recent resurgence.
"People often switch back because, as their data grows, they have to keep adding more disk arrays and the costs start to spiral out of control," he explained.
Brett Edgecombe, managing director of storage VAR 101 Data Solutions, said that disappointing end-user experiences with disk deduplication is also fuelling demand for tape.
"A lot of disk backup has been sold on the back of the benefits of deduplication, which is not a process that can be carried with tape," explained Edgecombe.
"In many cases, end users have not seen the return on the investment or saved as much storage as they were promised and have gone back to tape."
Technological advances have also helped make tape a more compelling method of storage for end users, added Edgecombe.
"Tape drive technology now allows users to check the condition of their tapes for signs of degradation and that makes people more willing to trust it with their data," he said. "If there are any signs of trouble, it will alert them and they can move that data elsewhere."
And not or
IBM's Masters is keen to stress that tape is not being introduced as a replacement for disk in end-user-infrastructures, but as a supplementary layer within their overall data protection strategies.
"The trend with customers today is to have a blend of both for compliance, performance, security and data protection reasons," explained Masters. "In the past the attitude was tape or disk and now it is tape and disk."
Paul Hickingbotham, solutions manager at storage distributor Hammer, said this change in attitude has helped to slow the decline in tape storage demand.
"The technology is experiencing something of an Indian summer, driven by backup consolidation projects where intelligent disk systems are deployed at remote sites enabling data to be replicated in the datacentre and backed up onto tape," he said.
The channel can capitalise on this trend by extolling the cost and performance benefits of using a mix of tape and disk to push new products and upgrades to customers, advised Hickingbotham.
"The strategy offers customers the best mix of high-performance backup and restore [with disk], combined with the reliability and cost-effectiveness of tape for long-term archive," he said.
However, the window of opportunity for VARs could be a relatively small one because of the growing popularity of cloud-based backup with SMBs, warned David Blackman, general manager of Northern Europe for Acronis.
"Tape is a dying technology and will be replaced by cloud because it is more convenient to use and recover data from," he said. "You do not have to rely on someone to do the backup and take it offsite, which is a big lure for SMEs."
The fact that online backup requires little human intervention also makes it less risky, added Blackman.
"Within small businesses with no IT departments, responsibility for backing up data usually falls on an unskilled person and the risk of something going wrong is high. With cloud, it is not an issue," he said.
Hammer's Hickingbotham said the size of the threat from cloud will depend on vendors and how their products are deployed.
"The threat to traditional backup from online hosted services is a real one, but its ability to penetrate into the mainstream market is entirely dependent on how the technology is deployed."
For example, appliance-free, software-based online storage can be difficult and time-consuming to access, which can lead to an increase in downtime, he explained.
"Cloud backup vendors that deploy an appliance onto the customer site, creating a local vault of data that can be replicated to the cloud, are a far more viable option for the corporate market," said Hickingbotham.
"It is these vendors that the traditional tape vendors should consider their greatest threat."
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