Is Backup Tape Dead?

I just had someone contact me and ask my opinion if I thought backup tape is dead.

Maybe 6 years ago I would have enthusiastically said “Yes!”, and did so many times. However, after spending the last 6 years dedicated to cloud backup and immersed in the backup industry, my views have evolved on tape.

Instead of asking “Is tape dead?”, the proper question is “Has the use of tape changed?”. While tape is far from dead and very much alive, it’s use has substantially changed over the past 5 to 10 to 15 years. In the past, tape was the go-to medium for backups of all types. However, disk has certainly displaced a lot of tape when it comes to near line backup storage of recently created data. Many modern backup environments consist of disk-to-disk backup and then backup data is written to tape after some period of time for longer-term storage and archive.

Disk storage is significantly higher cost than tape storage, but for near term backup data the advantages of disk outweigh the cost penalty. For long-term archive of older data, where quick access is not needed, tape is the clear winner.

[Read about aligning the cost of data protection vs the value of the data]

In my experience, many SMBs have shifted to a disk-to-disk-to-cloud solution with no tape. So, in the SMB one could argue that tape has largely died (or at least diminished greatly). However, at the enterprise-level or those organizations who require long-term retention of backup data, there is no better alternative to storing large amounts of data on tape, and this will probably be the case for the next 10 years or beyond. So, no, tape is not dead, but it’s use has changed.





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