Fotolia 62441044 - Audio tape © Yeko Photo Studio

Let's understand the following fact: magnetic tape has almost completely disappeared from consumer market, but they still plays a very important 'behind the scenes' role as massive data storage medium today.


Tape technology has been around for a long time, however like the hard disk and semiconductor storage, magnetic tape has advanced enormously over the decades. Yes, it is true that tape does not deliver fast access speeds as of hard disks or semiconductor. But still, magnetic tape technology offers many advantages over other storage mediums, that render leading cloud-service providers such as Google or Microsoft still rely on tape backup for its operations, even though the data has been stored on multiple online copies across multiple data centers.

Some of tape advantages are:

  • Tape is more energy efficient than hard disks: When not mounted, a tape cartridge will simply sit quietly in its compartment and will never consume any power at all.
  • Tape is also exceedingly reliable, with error rates that are four to five orders of magnitude lower than those of hard drives. 
  • Tape is very secure, with its built-in on-the-fly encryption and its offline nature that provides additional security layer against cyber-attacks and buggy software.

Beside of these advantages, financial regulations now require organizations to keep archive records for much longer periods than they had to in the past. For such thing, magnetic tape is the perfect solution.

Mark Lantz, a researcher with IBM Research Zurich, mentioned on an article that tape has survived for as long as it has for one fundamental reason: It’s cheap. Over years, tape is getting cheaper all the time while its technology gets better and better. Today, a modern LTO-8 tape cartridge offers a compressed storage capacity of 30 terabytes (12 terabytes native) and a robotic tape library can store from tens to hundreds of petabytes of data. They are far more advanced than the first commercial digital-tape storage system, IBM’s Model 726, that could store only about 1.1 megabytes on one reel of tape in 1952. 

LTO Ultrium Roadmap


The Information Storage Industry Consortium, an organization with HP Enterprise, IBM, Oracle, Quantum and several academic research groups as members, released the “International Magnetic Tape Storage Roadmap" in 2015. The roadmap forecasted, by 2025 tape capacity (in terabytes) will grow 41.00% per year, while tape total data rate (in MB/sec) growth shall be 22.50% per year. Beside of that, we also have witnessed the capacity of new generation LTO tape has doubled than the capacity of its previous generation. These roadmaps only tell us one thing: tape technology and research are still advancing.

Operating costs, along with its built-in offline nature advantages and external regulation, are key reasons why magnetic tape will still be here in the future. Tape cost is typically one-sixth of the cost to keep the same amount of data on disks. Tape is almost disappeared completely from consumer-level products, most people are unaware of its current existence, let alone its tremendous technology advances in recent years. Tape technology, such as LTO, will still plays a very important 'behind the scenes' role to power the Cloud for years to come.

What do you think about tape vs disk future? Please leave a comment below.