As 60th anniversary nears, tape reinvents itself

Streaming media, the cloud and Big Data will play important roles in tape's future.

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"There's no such thing as a film that gets created without 20 companies being involved. There's no such thing as broadcaster that doesn't distribute to 40 or 50, or 400 or 500 broadcast outlets. Seamless interoperability was baked into the business and we threw it out like the trash," he said.

Thought Equity, a cloud-based storage service for master-quality video, stores stock content for Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, National Geographic, The New York Times and the NCAA. It recently changed over to an LTO-5 tape library using LTFS to handle more than 10 petabytes of data. The company estimates that data will soon exceed 50 petabytes.

Disk is not something the broadcast industry or film industry can even consider for storing media for longer than 10 years, Lemmons said, because it doesn't have the retrieval attributes the video media business needs.

"Over the last two years, disk drives have gotten bigger, they've gone from 1TB to 3TB, but they haven't gotten faster," he said. "They're more like tape. Meanwhile, tape is going the other direction, it's getting faster."

LTFS was a critical upgrade for Thought Equity, Lemmons said, because the company needs to ensure that its clients will be able to access video files no matter type of IT infrastructure they have.

The LTO tape had never been an appropriate medium for media in any big way, Lemmons said, because it was built for large banks or other corporations performing backups that were stored for catastrophic data recovery scenarios -- not for ubiquitous access and video.

"Historically, tape was complex enough just to get working, and the IT software layer on top of it was not sharable," he said. "If Client X gives me a petabyte of data, then it's on my system, on my tape and with my software interpreting it. If I was to take that tape and ship it to them, it would be a paperweight unless they had the same IT stack."

"It's IBM Tivoli, Oracle SAM-FS... it's the HSM layer or the file system layer. It's a very expensive, proprietary layer, and it makes it impossible to share at the tape level," Lemmons said.

LTFS allows any file system to access the data, so the backup software used to store it becomes irrelevant.

Lemmons can write a video file to a tape; the tape then shows up on any desktop, such as a Mac, Windows or Linux machine, and it presents itself just as if it were a hard drive volume.

"I can drag and drop the file, write it to the tape at essentially the same speed as a SATA drive, and ship it around the world just like a Digibeta or HDcam tape, and without having to have the same level of infrastructure that would be required for a front porch integration. I don't have to have anything but a little piece of open-source software, thanks to IBM and HP and Oracle and others in this LTFS initiative," he said.

Cloud and Big Data to drive tape adoption

Along with streaming media, Big Data and the cloud have opened new markets for tape storage.

Both private and public cloud infrastructures require massive amounts of data to be available in a near-line fashion. Depending on the service-level agreement, cloud providers might offer a tiered storage infrastructure where data that needs to be accessed quickly and easily is stored on solid-state drives and data that doesn't have to be immediately available is kept on disk drives or tape drives, with the latter offering the least expensive option yet delivering "good enough" performance for storage of large files.

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