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LTO Tape Capacity Shipments Down 8% From 2019 to 2020 at 105PB

LTO-9 largely late

The LTO Program Technology Provider Companies Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM and Quantum released their annual tape media shipment report, detailing Y/Y shipments.

The report showed 105,198PB of total tape capacity (compressed) shipped in 2020, slightly short of 2019 (a record year). For context, real GDP fell to a -5% growth rate during the same time period.
Despite the unexpected headwinds for many segments of the technology industry produced by the pandemic, overall LTO tape capacity shipped in 2020 was strong in context,” said Eric Bassier, senior director, Quantum Corp.Coming off record capacity shipped in 2019, we were optimistic for 2020 – but global shutdowns and other factors outside of our collective control led to a reduced performance. We’re optimistic that there will be a return to the prior capacity growth trend in 2021 as companies return to making storage purchases, account for new trends requiring stronger security measures, and we continue to see shifts in purchases from older to newer gens of LTO tape.”
Emerging trends during the pandemic include increased ransomware attacks and other cybersecurity threats that increased in severity as remote work became the norm for millions of workers. These new vulnerabilities for corporate enterprises led to a surge to record levels of ransomware attacks in 2020, exacerbated by a distributed workforce, stretched-thin IT teams and bad cyber hygiene by remote workers. The trend reinforced the need for organizations to adopt the “3-2-1-1” backup rule, which involves at least 3 copies or versions of data stored on 2 different storage mediums, one of which is off-site and one that is offline – or an “air gap.”
Demonstrating its ability to protect data, LTO tape technology offers an inherent air-gap, which is essential to thwarting increasingly sophisticated ransomware and malware threats that may corrupt live, backup, and archive data simultaneously.
LTO tape continues to keep pace with the IT market as current and emerging users discover new ways to incorporate it into their data protection practices,” said Phil Goodwin, research director, IDC. “The prevalence of ransomware exploded during the pandemic as the shift to remote work created more opportunities for threats to corporate networks. With the native ability to provide air gap and fast restore, LTO tape will continue to be a core component of data management best practices.”
LTO’s features make it a critical component of a modern-day storage infrastructure. They offer secure and reliable long-term archival storage for data after it is no longer accessed frequently at a cost substantially lower than flash disk or cloud when considering factors such as power, cooling and retrieval.
LTO-8 technology, already available, offers up to 30TB of compressed capacity, assuming 2.5:1 compression achieved with larger compression history buffer available, beginning with LTO-6 drives, with transfer speeds of up to 360MB/s native, 750MB/s compressed. When you compare native data rates LTO-8 tape is faster than the latest gens of HDDs with transfer rates of 210MB/s

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A record compressed 114,079PB of LTO tape capacity was shipped in 2019 vs. 105,198PB in 2020, corresponding to a 8% decrease.

Problem is that tape is now used about only in big libraries (notably from Spectra Logic and Qualstar) for huge capacities, limiting its penetration. Furthermore, it's the last removable magnetic storage media with some declining proprietary tape technologies for mainframes.

It would be more significant if the LTO Program publishes also the evolution in number of tape drives and cartridges, but it never did it.

LTO will not exist without IBM technology first released in 1998 and first introduced 11 years ago, the company being the only manufacturer of drives with apparently only FujiFilm into tape cartridges. It's not enough to be considered as an industry standard that required multiple sources, not only multiple distributors.

Now it's up to Big Blue to decide to pursue or not in this format, depending on the evolution of this market.

LTO-8 (12TB native) is there with IBM revealing the first drives at the end of 2017. LTO-9 (18TB native or same capacity of the most capacitive HDDs) was expected to ship in Fall 2020 but was delayed impacting notably HPE, Quantum, Dell Overland-Tandberg, Qualstar, Spectra Logic, Fujitsu, OWC and IBM. Roadmap is supposed to go finally to LTO-12 (144TB native) in unknown year.

Note that, in the press release of the LTO Program above, only LTO-8 is mentioned, not LTO-9 at all, even if the specs of this latter were officially announced as well as "available for licensing" in September 2020, not far from one year ago.

OWC speaks about a "future release of LTO-9 drives later this year." With no more precision.