Storage for the future

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Industry analysts believe that the amount of data in the world will grow from 4.4 zettabytes in 2013 to 180 ZB in 2025,[1] more than doubling every two years.[2] This astounding growth will be fueled by sources such as the Internet of Things (IoT), video surveillance and mobile and social systems of engagement. For example, approximately 11 billion devices connect to the internet now, and the figure is expected to nearly triple to 30 billion by 2020, and then nearly triple again to 80 billion five years later.1

As organizational leaders are struggling to address the zettabyte-scale flood of data, for many IT groups the number one objective is to control costs.[3]

The question becomes: What storage technology available today can provide the capacity and scalability needed to address the data deluge – and at the same time actually help lower overall data storage costs? The answer is tape.

Can tape handle the flood of data? Current projections show tape areal density growing at a 30 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), compared to a little over 9 percent CAGR for disk.[4] IBM research recently demonstrated the ability to record data at an areal density of 201 gigabits per square inch on magnetic tape.[5] That translates to the equivalent of 330TB of data stored in a tape cartridge about the same size as the palm of your hand. Keep in mind that no tape with this areal density exists – yet. But the lab demo does confirm the trajectory of tape’s capabilities. And this is IBM’s fifth world record in tape storage since 2006, when our researchers first packed 6.67 billion bits of data per square inch onto a test tape.[6]

Tape offers plenty of storage capacity, with density increases actually matching or exceeding the estimated data growth rates. But what about cost? Can tape offer cost savings today and into the future?

Yes. The cost trajectory of tape looks better than disk and nearly as robust as flash storage. And that’s starting from a point of great cost advantage already. Current LTO-7 tape solutions have been shown to cost only about 2 cents per gigabyte. With expected compression rates, the cost drops to less than 1 cent per GB.3  

How does this compare to disk? A few years ago, industry analysts estimated that tape was about 26 times less expensive that disk.[7] More recently, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) conducted a detailed cost comparison between tape and disk and concluded that over a ten-year period, tape offered nearly seven times lower TCO than disk storage. [8]

ESG stated: “LTO-based solutions yield a compelling outcome for organizations struggling to cope with fast-growing data, reliable retention, and budgetary pressures. The selection of the proper storage platform for its requirements can have a significant impact on the financial success of an organization.

What about tape in the near future? Don’t believe for a moment that IBM engineers are finished innovating around the basic tape storage platform. The LTO program has established a tape roadmap stretching forward ten generations, and beyond. Far from pushing tape to the brink of extinction, the 21st century flood of data is instead lifting tape-based storage into a new position of prominence and value.

Stay tuned. Tape isn’t history. It’s the future.

Find more information here.

[1] What’s the Big Data:  Amount of Data Created Annually to Reach 180 Zettabytes in 2025, March 2016 (  

[2] EMC Digital Universe with Research & Analysis by IDC: The Digital Universe of Opportunities: Rich Data and the Increasing Value of the Internet of Things, April 2014

[3] Ultrium LTO BlogBytes: New Year’s Resolution – Control Costs, February 2017 (

[4] Wikibon: The Emergence of a New Architecture Flape, David Floyer, July 2014. Also, source of 10-year cost chart.

[5]IBM Press release:

[6] PC: IBM Teases 330TB of Data in Palm-Sized Cartridge, August 2017 (

[7] The Clipper Group Calculator: Revisiting the Search for Long-Term Storage – A TCO Analysis of Tape and Disk (

[8] ESG White Paper: Analyzing the Economic Value of LTO Tape for Long-term Data Retention, 2016 (

Business Line Executive, Storage Networking and DRI Tape Solutions, IBM Systems

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