IBM’s LTO-8 – Building a Bright Future for Tape Storage

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 10, 2017

Hang around the IT industry long enough and you notice that rumors of the impending demise of some product or class of products are always making the rounds. Sometimes they’re honest opinions expressed by canny industry-watchers. More often they reflect the hopes of desperate vendors trying to poke holes in competitors’ cash cows and/or businesses.

Most importantly, they’re generally wrong.

Why do I say that? Because if you examine the evidence, you find that technologies tend to die for one of two reasons. The first are vendor-led extinctions where a vendor decides to pull the plug on a given technology (or the market pulls the plug on the vendor). For example, HP’s 2000 acquisition of Compaq and its subsequent adoption of Intel’s Itanium CPUs resulted in the company killing its own HP-UX chips, as well as Compaq’s Alpha and Tandem silicon.

Technologies also die when they fail to keep pace with alternatives or lose the faith of core customers. Data storage technologies provide a rich smorgasbord of examples, including the appearance/disappearance of 8-inch, 5¼-inch and 3 ½-inch floppy disks, and Iomega’s Zip and Jaz drives, all of which were driven under by decreasingly costly/increasingly popular HDD and CD/RW technologies.

Which brings us to tape storage, particularly data center-focused tape technologies. Those have been under a death-watch since 2002 when EMC introduced its Centera platform, the industry’s first HDD-based solution for data archiving, long a tape bastion. More to the point, despite surviving well beyond competitors’ hopes and expectations, tape storage also continues to evolve as evidenced by the new generation LTO-8 offerings just announced by IBM.

IBM LTO’s secret? Satisfy old and new customers

So what exactly is IBM delivering? Its new Linear Tape Open Ultrium 8 Tape drive (LTO-8), which doubles data capacity from previous generation LTO solutions, shortens data access times by 20 percent and drives media costs below the half-cent per GB barrier.

IBM LTO-8 maintains continued support for AME and AES-256 standard encryption, data partitioning and security key management while maintaining compatibility with LTO-7. It will be available in Q4, joining a range of other IBM tape storage solutions that are designed to provide customers advanced data preservation and security, along with enhanced functionality.

What that means in simple English is that along with supporting all the key features of IBM LTO-7, the new LTO-8 offerings are also significantly more capacious, considerably less expensive and can access information faster than previous generation LTO solutions.

These points will all welcomed by IBM tape storage customers, most of whom value LTO’s robust security features and leverage tape systems to support their core enterprise applications. That point opens a window into upcoming innovations, including a recent Tape Storage Council report which estimates that tape data rates are expected to be as much as 5X faster than HDDs by 2025.

Tape storage’s bright future also casts light on why new customers are increasingly adopting these technologies. They include cloud service providers (CSPs) that are using IBM LTO to support long-term archiving of “cold” data, as well as companies implementing tape archives of mobile and social data, and emerging big data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Final analysis

How has IBM achieved all this? First, by providing unwavering support for customers’ key applications. Second, by focusing its LTO investments on critical new workloads, functions and features. Finally, by working closely with other tape storage innovators, including Sony to pursue upcoming generation LTO enhancements.

For a technology that’s supposedly been on life support for 15+ years, tape storage in general and IBM LTO solutions in particular have never looked healthier.

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