Don’t Count Tape Out Just Yet, ESG Report Says
November 18, 2020 Alex Woodie
Public cloud and disk-based backup systems are growing in popularity. But when it comes to keeping up with the explosion in data backup and archive volumes, organizations still are relying on tape to deliver the goods, according to a new report from the Enterprise Strategy Group.
For Enterprise Strategy Group’s “2020 Tape Landscape” report, which it produced on behalf of the LTO Program, ESG surveyed more than 300 IT professionals from American and Canadian organizations to get a feel for their data protection requirements, with a focus on backup and archive.
The analyst group determined that the average backup volume was about 4PB, and that it was growing at an average of 39 percent. The average archive volume, meanwhile, was 3PB, and was growing at 41 percent per year. In terms of storage mediums, tape is currently used for 33 percent of backup and archive data, it found. Looking forward, that percentage is expected to drop to 25 percent over the next two years, as organizations move more of their backup and archive data to the cloud.
The share of backup and archive data stored in on-premise tape systems is expected to drop about 5 percent, from 18 percent today to 13 percent in two years, ESG concluded. Onsite disk-based storage, including virtual tape libraries (VTLs), is expected to stay the same, at around 25 percent, although the mix will skew towards what ESG calls “onsite external disk-based systems” (which are different in some way from VTLs).
As ESG’s data shows, the cloud is expected to absorb the bulk of the backup and archive data that is being moved off premise. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a mass migration away from tape.
“Though their cloud front-end may be different than in-house tape deployments, many [cloud] providers actually use significant tape storage typically marketed as lower cost and ‘colder’ tiers of storage services as part of their back-end infrastructure,” ESG senior analyst Christophe Bertrand writes.
One of tape’s advantages over other storage mediums is cost effectiveness. While many people may assume that it is cheaper to store data on the cloud, those assumptions often melt away when they begin to receive monthly bills from their cloud storage providers.
In its survey, ESG attempted to gauge its survey-takers’ relative perceptions of tape versus cloud on the cost question. It determined that tape was considered the “most cost-effective” storage medium by 44 percent of its group, compared to 30 percent for public cloud and 27 percent for disk systems.
When it comes to recoverability, there was a tie between tape and cloud, with 34 percent apiece considering it the “most recoverable” storage medium, while only 32 percent of users felt disk systems were the most recoverable.
While onsite tape’s overall share of backup and archive data is dropping relative to cloud’s share, that doesn’t mean that tape volumes are decreasing (that 40 percent annual growth rate of backup and archive data provides a lot of wiggle room for all storage mediums).
In fact, ESG found that 61 percent of tape customers plan to invest more in tape and increase their tape footprint, while another 26 percent said they will maintain their tape systems but not purchase any more. Only 11 percent of tape users said they would decrease their tape footprints.
An interesting split appeared in the data when it came to performance. About one-third of ESG’s survey-takers come from midsize organizations (defined as 100 to 999 employees), while the other two-thirds hail from enterprises (defined as more than 1,000 employees).
When asked what an acceptable throughout for their tape systems was, 38 percent of respondents from midsize organizations said a drive with at least 160MB per second of throughput was acceptable, while 43 percent of respondents from enterprises said a tape drive with at least 300MB per second of throughput was acceptable.
“Not surprisingly, the enterprise type of tape deployments are looking for a higher level of throughout,” Bertrand says in a webinar. “Performance matters greatly in IT.”
Tape is also differentiated from its storage peers in terms of compliance with data regulations and resilience to cyberattacks. Forty percent of respondents stated that tape was “critical” to meeting compliance requirements, ESG states, while another 46 percent reported that tape is “important” in that regard. One-third of tape users stated that tape was “the foundation” of their compliance efforts.
The air-gapped nature of offline tape storage is often cited as a beneficial component in efforts to protect against ransomware, particularly as cyberthieves step up their evil efforts during the pandemic. (Real-time replication of infected data, which is what many high availability setups in IBM i and open systems shops, does no good in protecting one from ransomware). Only 29 percent of ESG’s sample have not experienced any ransomware attacks in the past 12 months, which shows how prevalent this particular form of cybercrime has become.
The role of tape in the mitigation of these types of cyber-attacks impact is “foundational,” Bertrand writes. “Indeed, 85 percent of the organizations that use tape in this manner voice a high or very high degree of confidence in the technology’s ability to facilitate data recoveries triggered by cyber events.”
Love it or hate it, tape clearly will continue to play an important role in organizations’ backup and archive efforts for the foreseeable future. To download a copy of the ESG report, go to www.lto.org/esg2020/.