Is Tape Storage (Completely) Dead?

May 28th, 2015 by admin

Stylized graphic of an arrow pointing into a cassette tape

If you're over 40, you probably remember the original Sony Walkman—the freedom of listening to a single cassette tape in portable stereo. Even if you still have a few favorite cassette tapes packed away somewhere, where could you listen to them today? Tape is just so… ancient. Ask your kids.

Magnetic tape used for computer data storage dates back even further, introduced by IBM in 1953. Those first reel-to-reel contraptions would likewise give way to the convenience of portable cassettes, which would largely be replaced by hard disks, and most recently storage via the Cloud. But tape storage hasn't quite gone the way of the dinosaurs just yet. In some cases, it might still be a favorably economical storage option, particularly for small businesses.

When we talk about "data storage," we need to divide it into two distinct areas: backup and archiving.


Backing up essential day-to-day files and applications, as we've talked about, is necessary for disaster recovery (DR)—getting your company back up and running as soon as possible following a major catastrophe (from acts of nature to hostile computer viruses to simple human error). We strongly advocate that each of our customers develops a comprehensive, hybrid Cloud and on-premises Disaster Recovery solution.


Archiving involves the secured storage of "cold" data, rarely used files which still need long-term retention (typically for regulatory requirements). For many small companies, as much as 85 percent of stored data is never accessed again after 90 days. It either takes up valuable disk space on an onsite server or gets uploaded into a Cloud data center—where the provider charges monthly for every last gigabyte.

As antiquated as tape storage may first appear, it still holds a few advantages over other media:

  • Tape is cheaper. Purchasing new cassettes (as low as $30 each) for a single DDS/DAT tape drive is less expensive than multiple hard drives/servers or additional Cloud data storage.

  • Tape lasts. A stored index of tapes lasts up to 30 years undisturbed, requiring none of the constant power and cooling requirements of an active computer.  Of course, you need to keep the tape drive equipment and software around.

  • Tape is secure. Archived data remains off the IT network until it's needed—so it's virtually hack-proof.

The "tape vs. disk vs. Cloud" debate still rages in IT circles. It doesn't need to be an either/or proposition; archived files on tape can be a cost-effective supplement to storage on your server or in a Cloud data center. How well might a hybrid on-premises/Cloud/disk/tape solution fit into your company's data storage needs? Ask us.

Posted in: Cyber and Data Security