Of COURSE We Need 35 TB Tapes

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Dear Ms. Ahmogul,
IBM recently announced that it created a 35 TB tape that will be commercially available in five years. Since then I have read articles asking good questions, like ‘Do we need 35 TB tapes?’

An Easy Mark

Dear Mr. Mark,
According to urban legend, in 1981 Bill Gates defended the (then-new) PC’s limited RAM by saying: "640K ought to be enough for anybody." (He denies having said this.)

This legend comes to mind on reading your question: “Do We Need 35 TB Tapes?” (Perhaps in thirty years you may find yourself denying having asked this question.)

To answer the 35 TB question: Why, yes, we will need 35 TB tapes. Just as we continue to require ever greater RAM than 640K, we will also need ever larger storage media, simply because of the incredible rate of data creation.

Simultaneously, the percentage of data to protect over the long-term is growing. (Please refer to the IDC chart, below.)  More data, with a greater percentage of it to be stored for a decade or more, leads to an unavoidable conclusion: we will need to store all that data someplace.

Naysayers revel in pointing out (the obvious fact) that it takes a long time to fill a 35 TB tape. Hence, these Captain Obvious types hold that no one will need or use a high-capacity tape. And, of course, it’s true that filling a 35 TB tape takes awhile. It also takes awhile to fill a 1 TB tape.

The fact that it takes awhile doesn’t alter other facts that include these:
• Huge quantities of data already occupy the digital universe and are multiplying at fantastic rates.
• A steadily higher percentage of this ever-increasing data has to be protected for the long-term.
• No viable alternative to tape for long-term, proven data storage yet exists (or is on the horizon, for that matter).

Over the coming decade, the choice is between using a few big tapes or lots of small ones.  So although you, Mr. Mark, may choose to use and manage 35 one-terabyte tapes, others will chose to use and manage a single tape.

The logic is pretty straightforward.

Kindest Regards,
Ms. Meade E. Ahmogul

Source: Gantz, John F. “The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe,” IDC White Paper, 3/08.  “Figure 8 shows a unique view of the digital universe by the degree to which the information in it might be subject to […] legal and compliance requirements such as ediscovery, HIPAA, or Sarbanes-Oxley; or be valuable enough to expect to store for 10 years or more.”