LTO and Tape storage media

(Image credit: LTO Program)

“Tape storage is dead” is one of those prophecies that has never seemed to actualize itself: demand for slow yet cost-effective and reliable storage solutions hasn’t gone the way of the dodo. On the contrary; the LTO (Linear Tape-Open) Program group (a collective of tape specialist companies made up of HPEIBM and Quantum Corporation) just announced a 5% YoY increase in shipments compared to the same period last year.

That may not seem like much, but the bigger context is that that 0.5% growth rests atop a staggering 40% volume increase seen last year. In a market that’s seen contractions, layoffs, and lowering sales volumes, that has to count as a win (a number of well-known hardware companies would have loved to show these results in their latest earnings report, after all).

The LTO shipments report also demonstrate the speedy adoption of the latest technology, LTO-9, compared to other technological leaps. LTO-8 continues to be a great seller for value-conscious buyers — its 30 TB of compressed capacity and up to 750 MB/s data transfer rates are nothing to scoff at. But LTO-8 has been superseded by the 9th iteration, which has increased compressed data density (up to 45 TB) and transfer rates of up to 900 MB/s. 

And while total number of tapes shipped has been declining, it’s important to remember that a tape of today can offer the same storage capacity as many tapes of yesterday. If you wanted 45TB of compressed storage on an LTO-5 product stack, you’d be looking at buying 30 1.5 TB LTO-5 tapes — volume lies in capacity, not on number of units.

No, tape isn’t dead, and contrary to what you may have read, HDDs aren’t going to be extinct by 2028, either. But while HDD shipments cratered by around 35% this year, tape still found room to grow. Technologies last much longer than we give them credit for, and the AI boom for unstructured data means increased demand for cheap, reliable, and capacious storage. The LTO Program’s growth being mostly fuelled by hyperscalers and enterprises is a testament to that.

LTO and Tape storage media

YoY shipments for LTO-based storage technology increased 40% from 2020 through 2021, and continued its growth in 2022 (albeit at a much more modest .5%) (Image credit: LTO Program)

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Francisco Pires is a freelance news writer for Tom’s Hardware with a soft side for quantum computing.

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