Is tape storage dead … again?

Tape storage has been declared dead so many times that it has become a trope in technology journalism. The truth is more complicated and is ultimately less about tape’s demise than it is about the steady encroachment of cloud services.

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Much like the mainframe, tape still has its place. It’s a veteran technology that is heralded for being cheap, reliable and simple, and advancements continue. Even so, by the time you’ve invested in tape robots for automation and verification steps to make sure your backup actually captured your data, all that labor and infrastructure means tape isn’t as cheap as the per-megabyte costs make it look.

Meanwhile, cloud services don’t just compete economically (you can pay just one or two cents per gigabyte per month for blob storage), they let you think differently about the things you used to need tape to achieve, like long-term archiving and disaster recovery.

“Large enterprises are saying ‘I'm done with my tape, I want to move my backups to the cloud’,” says Guru Pangal, general manager for hybrid storage and data protection at Microsoft, who admittedly has some skin in this game.

Those customers aren’t dropping their investment in tape overnight, Pangal admits, but they don’t want to spend any more money on infrastructure that doesn’t give them the storage features they want. “Tape has been declared dead about 15 times so far. Every five years someone says tapes are dead but so far, tapes are still alive. We're not saying tapes are dead. But a lot of our customers are saying, ‘When the lease comes up for the tape I'm done with it. It's too complex. I don't know if I can restore it. I can't test it. I want to go to the cloud.’”

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