LTO Tape Drives: More than 3 Million Served
March 23, 2010 Alex Woodie
More than 3 million LTO Ultrium tape drives have shipped since the LTO-1 tape standard was first released nearly a decade ago, the consortium of companies behind the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) format announced this week. The LTO syndicate expects demand for LTO gear to continue at a healthy pace. However, lower than expected performance capabilities of the latest LTO-5 spec, which was unveiled earlier this year, along with adoption of “cloud” storage alternatives, could dampen the LTO enthusiasm.
More than 3.3 million LTO drives have shipped since the first LTO-1 drive was introduced 9.5 years ago, according to a new IDC study that’s being promoted by the LTO Program, the group originally formed by IBM, HP, and Quantum to define and license the open LTO standard to manufacturers of tape drive and media.
IDC researcher Robert Amatruda says the LTO shipment milestone recognizes that tape “remains a cost-effective and integral” component of companies’ data protection strategies. He also said it demonstrates “the need for a truly open tape format.”
Adoption of LTO gear has increased steadily since the first unit shipped in September 2000. While it took five years to ship the first 1 million LTO drives, vendors have shipped an average of 500,000 drives every year since 2005. Deliveries appear to be on pace to hit 3.5 million units by September, the traditional month for reporting LTO shipments.
While LTO has enjoyed a good run, and companies don’t appear to be eliminating tape from their environments en masse, several factors are combining to make tape less relevant, even as the amount of data generated in the world continues to increase at an exponential pace.
For starters, the ever-decreasing cost of spinning disk and increasingly advanced data compression technologies are allowing smaller companies to standardize on SATA disk appliances for their short-term DR and long-term compliance requirements. Secondly, the rapid rise of cheap cloud-based storage services from Amazon, IBM, Google and a host of others–System i shops have options from SunGard Availability Services, Kisco Information Systems (via Amazon), Seagate‘s i365, and most recently, Unitrends–continues to chip away at tape’s (considerable) installed base.
Thirdly, the performance of the LTO spec is not increasing as fast as it once did. While LTO users enjoyed doubling in tape capacity and data transmission speeds from one generation to the next during the 2000s, the stated performance of the new LTO-5 spec came in lower than expected when it was released earlier this year. LTO-5 gear shipments are expected to begin later this year.
LTO–the strongest of the “super” tape formats–is not going away, and neither is tape, for a long time, if for no other reason than the billions of dollars that enterprises have invested in tape and the promises made to improve the format over time. The LTO program is already working on the next generation, and says it will soon provide a roadmap for LTO-6 and beyond.
In one bright spot for tape, IBM claimed a major breakthrough in tape density earlier this year that could continue tape’s relevancy in the 21st century. The breakthrough wasn’t one specific thing, but a combination of advances that could result in a single tape cartridge holding 35 TB uncompressed data–or 44 times the capacity of the current LTO-4 spec. Now that would be impressive.