Tape storage has never disappeared for big data storage companies, but you’d be forgiven for not being familiar with the technology as a PC gamer in 2022. Since then, we’ve moved to much faster technologies for our gaming PCs like NVMe SSD. . But tape isn’t dead, far from it — in fact, it was a record year for tape storage sales, reportedly spurred on by fears of cyberattacks.
Tape is a fairly old storage technology by modern standards. There are magnetic tape-based storage systems that date back to the first commercial PCs in the 1950s. The ones we are talking about today, Linear Tape-Open (LTO) came a little later, in the 1990s. This is essentially an open standard for storage on magnetic tape created by a multi-industry consortium and manufactured today by companies such as HP Enterprise, IBM and Quantum Corporation.
It was a stellar year for LTO as well. according to one LTO sales report (by Sweclockers), using data from the companies responsible for manufacturing LTO tapes, 148 exabytes of total tape capacity were shipped in 2021. This is much more than 2020, where 105 exabytes were shipped, or the previous record year of 2019 with 114 exabytes of capacity.
The reason for the increase? It is partially attributed to a growing cybersecurity and malware threat such as ransomware.
“We continue to see organizations return to tape technology, looking for storage solutions that offer high capacity, reliability, long-term data archiving, and stronger data protection measures, especially as cybersecurity threats increase,” Patrick Osborne, GM and vice president of HPE Storage, says.
So what makes tape storage so good against the bad actors on the internet trying to make a quick buck? It all boils down to something called air-gap in storage security. Air-gap means offline and inaccessible data storage without physical access to it. Unless some hacker is prepared to break into a warehouse of tape drives and plug them all in and wait the tedious time it would take to steal all the data from each drive, the data cannot be easily destroyed or copied.
Essentially, the tape drive itself is not a wonderful anti-malware solution. Plus it’s cheap, high capacity, stored offline and can be left on a shelf for a long time and works fine.
Now keep in mind that businesses are unlikely to rely on a tape drive for their primary backup, let alone a second or third stage backup, in case everything goes terribly wrong. This means that they may still have important data on more vulnerable drives, perhaps even cloud-connected storage, and therefore could still be held hostage by hackers who want to release stolen information if they don’t receive the ransom money.
Recently, cyberattacks of this type have been quite common, particularly from a group known as lapse $, which claimed responsibility for hacks at Microsoft, Nvidia, Samsung and more. However, this is just a drop in the bucket, and cyberattacks of this type are something that most Internet users and businesses need to be aware of and planning for these days.