What is tape storage and why we use it?

Posted on Mar 18, 2022

In 1963, with the introduction of a tape "smaller than a pack of cigarettes", the cost of music recording and distribution was greatly reduced, followed by a music revolution that swept the world. From 1980s to 1990s, the magnetic tape has become the music fan’s necessary choice. The popularity of the magnetic tape in music area has gradually replaced its position in PC gaming and data storage. Until the invention of disk and flash memory even the cloud storage, it started to withdraw from the stage.

Although increasingly rare in daily life, tapes are actually still widely used. In fact, tape technology has advanced rapidly over the past few decades. Compared with hard disks and semiconductor storage devices, its speed is still slow. But as a storage medium, the advantages of tape are far more than imagined.

First of all, mass data stored in magnetic tape can preserved be for 30-50 years while the HHD only has a 3-5 lifespan even the disks can only store for 10-35 years. Flash memory devices, including U disks and SSDs, will gradually decrease their "lifespan" as the number of reads and writes increases.

Secondly, the tape is a highly secure storage solution. You can’t read or modified the data stored in tape unless you inserted it into the driver, which means it is invulnerable to cyber-attack and network viruses. Its high security has won companies’ favors such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, as one of the necessary means of archiving important data.

For example, in 2011, Google accidentally deleted more than 40,000 Gmail account email messages due to a software upgrade. Although Google stores data on hard drives in multiple data centers, the information is not recoverable. Fortunately, Google eventually managed to recover the data from its backup tape.

Although tapes have many advantages, the reason why enterprises use tape is mainly because of low cost. The same amount of data, if stored in hard disks, the budget will be 6 times larger than the tape.

One tape drive can handle hundreds of tapes, which greatly reduces the cost of drives. Therefore, it is common that some industries choose tape to store mass data such as film and television, finance, communications, and energy industries. Moreover, tape capacity has been increasing by 33% per year. One of the reasons is that tape as a storage medium, its low-cost has attracted many companies to join the "new business" of tape storage.

In the post-pandemic era, video and teleconferencing have gradually become mainstream communication methods. In recent years, the data is increasing exponentially, as more new intelligent technologies emerged such as facial recognition, route analysis, telemedicine, online education, and virtual reality. They require mass storage devices. The magnetic tape, as a more energy-efficient storage device, may become one of the more low-carbon, environmentally friendly, safer, and more reliable storage solutions in the future.

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