Tape storage has never really gone away for big data storage companies, but you’ll be forgiven for not being savvy about the technology as a PC gamer in 2022. Since then we’ve moved on to much faster technologies for gaming PCs, like NVMe SSDs. But tape isn’t dead, far from it — it was in fact a record year for tape storage sales, which are said to be driven by the fear of a cyber attack.
Tape is a very old storage technology by modern standards. There are magnetic tape-based storage systems that date back to the first commercial computers in the 1950s. The folks we’re talking with today, Linear Tape-Open (LTO) came a little later than that, back in the ’90s. This is primarily an open magnetic tape storage standard created by a multi-industry consortium, and today it is manufactured by the likes of HP Enterprise, IBM and Quantum Corporation.
It’s been an excellent year for LTO as well. According to LTO Sales (via Sweclockers), using data from companies responsible for manufacturing LTO tapes, 148 exabytes of total tape capacity were shipped in 2021. That’s significantly more than in 2020, when 105 exabytes were shipped, or the previous record year for 2019 It has a capacity of 114 exabytes.
The reason for the increase? This is partly due to the growing threat of cybersecurity and malware, such as ransomware.
“We continue to see organizations return to tape technology, in search of storage solutions that provide high capacity, reliability, long-term data archiving, and stronger data protection measures, particularly as threats to cybersecurity increase,” Patrick Osborne, general manager and vice president of HPE Storage, says.
So what makes tape storage so great against bad actors on the internet trying to make a quick buck? It has to do with something called an air gap in storage safety. Air gap means data is stored offline and cannot be accessed without physical access to it. Unless some hacker is willing to break into a repository of tape drives and connect them all and wait the hard, long time it takes to steal all the data from each drive, the data cannot be easily destroyed or copied.
Essentially, the tape drive itself isn’t a great anti-malware solution. Moreover, it is cheap, high capacity, stored offline and can be left on the shelf for a long time and works well.
Now keep in mind that companies will likely not rely on a drive for their primary backup, more so as a second or third stage backup in the event something goes terribly wrong. This means that they may still have important data on the most vulnerable drives, and possibly even cloud-related storage, so hackers looking to release stolen information can still get ransomware if they don’t get the ransom money.
Cyber attacks of this type have been fairly common lately, most famously from a group known as $Lapsus, which has claimed responsibility for hacks on Microsoft, Nvidia, Samsung and more. This is just a drop in the ocean, and cyber attacks of this kind are something that most Internet users and businesses should be aware of and plan for nowadays.