In a world where SSDs and HDDs dominate the storage market, it may come as a surprise to many that magnetic tape storage is still thriving. Despite being considered slow, fragile, and outdated, magnetic tape remains a popular choice for many organizations looking for cheap, large-scale, long-term storage solutions. In fact, in 2023, almost 153 exabytes of magnetic tape were shipped worldwide, marking a 3% increase from the previous year.

The use of ferromagnetic materials for data storage dates back to the early days of electronic computers. Many of us remember the days of storing data on cassette tapes or cartridges that housed a spool of magnetic tape. However, as technology advanced, magnetic tape was overshadowed by more efficient storage mediums such as floppy disks and hard disk drives. It was widely believed that magnetic tape would soon become obsolete.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, and Quantum Corporation have collaborated to develop the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) Ultrium format, which is used in magnetic tape cartridges capable of storing up to 18TB with a read speed of 400 MB/s. While these numbers may not impress in terms of speed, LTO is primarily used for system backups and data archives where speed is not the primary concern. What sets magnetic tape apart is its low cost-per-GB, making it an attractive option for organizations looking to store massive amounts of data at a minimal cost.

Despite its fragility, magnetic tape storage cartridges are known for their reliability and robustness. As the world generates an ever-increasing amount of data, the cost-effectiveness of magnetic tape storage makes it a desirable option for organizations with large-scale storage needs. While the 153 exabytes of magnetic tape shipped in 2023 may seem impressive, it’s important to note that this figure is based on a compression ratio of 2.5:1, bringing the raw figure to over 60 exabytes.

Although magnetic tape storage continues to hold its ground, HDDs and SSDs remain the preferred choice for many users due to their speed and performance capabilities. In the last three months of 2023, total HDD shipments were estimated to be around 212 EB, surpassing the shipment volume of magnetic tape. Additionally, nearly 780 EB of flash storage was shipped in the same year, highlighting the continued dominance of SSDs in terms of raw capacity.

As technology continues to evolve and large flash chips become more affordable, the future of magnetic tape storage may be uncertain. However, until then, HDDs and magnetic tape are likely to remain relevant in the storage market. While SSDs offer superior performance, organizations looking for cost-effective, large-scale storage solutions will continue to turn to magnetic tape and HDDs. The resilience of magnetic tape storage in the digital age is a testament to its enduring value in an ever-changing technological landscape.

Hardware

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