The Secret Life of Tape, 2011 Update - EnterpriseStorageForum.com

The Secret Life of Tape, 2011 Update

In August 2006 I wrote an article exposing the fact that, like any device, tape has a life span. As all of you who read this column regularly know, I am a big proponent of tape and archival storage. I believe that given the hard error rate, the very low power usage and low cooling costs, and the lower cost per TB, tape is the best medium for long-term storage.

Like any medium, tape has a life span, and that life span is not just based on the interface becoming old and no longer supported. Some examples of the interface support issue include Fibre Channel 1 Gbit, Fibre Channel 2 Gbit and Fibre Channel 4 Gbit (likely soon), but that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about the tape's life based the medium itself. Media wears out for a variety of reasons, including things like the stretching of the tape backing. There are many reasons, and the reasons are not the point of the column. The point is: What are the numbers? What are you going to do about it? What is missing from what vendors tell you, and want you to hear and not hear? Media technology wearing out is not limited to just tape media; it is also true of the disk drive. Again, I am not picking on tape! Try taking a consumer SATA drive, run it 7x24 doing head seeks and reading or writing, and do not try to tell me that flash does not have wear issues, either. Vendors address the flash by wear-leveling and adding extra cells. Anything that is electronic or mechanical will wear out. The real question is, what are the characteristics of this wear out, and what can you do to prevent it before the tape goes bad?

The Numbers

First of all, I want to thank the people at Imation for providing this information and updating the chart from 2006. The information Imation provided included many tapes that are no longer in use. I cut the chart down to what I consider modern tapes. What is clear from this chart is that if you read and write tapes very often, they will exceed what Imation says the tape is guaranteed to -- not that it will fail at that point, but when you exceed the expected usage. Note Imation's data is likely similar to other vendors, but no other vendors would provide the information publicly.

  Configuration Long-Length Durability * Example of Usage Life
Product Name Uncompressed Capacity (native) Total Data Tracks Written On Tape Data Tracks Written Each Pass Total EOL End-to-End Passes Number of Passes to Write Full Capacity (native) Number of Full Capacity Writes/Reads (EOL) Years of Life Assuming 1 Full Capacity Write per Month ** Years of Life Assuming 1 Full Capacity Write per Week ** Total TB Processed Over Full Life Uncompressed
Imation T10000 500 GB 768 32 4800 24 200 17 4 97.66
Imation T10000B 1000 GB 1152 32 7200 36 200 17 4 195.31
Imation LTO 1 100 GB 384 8 9600 48 200 17 4 19.53
Imation LTO 2 200 GB 512 8 16000 64 250 21 5 48.83
Imation LTO 3 400 GB 704 16 16000 44 364 30 7 142.05
Imation LTO 4 800 GB 896 16 11200 56 200 17 4 156.25
Imation LTO 5 1500 GB 1280 16 16000 80 200 17 4 292.97


Notes:
* Long-Length Durability test is typically performed at extreme environmental conditions, and is done without the benefit of cleaning between full capacity writes. Short-Length Durability test is a "shoe-shine" type test over 1 to 3 meters of tape.
** Estimates of life are obtained from long-length durability results using a full file pass as a basis.
No compression is used on any calculations. Compression is data dependant and can be between 1.5X and 2X (typically), up to 3X.
Limitations: This chart is only a guideline and may change dramatically based on the user's daily practices for the care and handling of the media, maintaining the proper use/storage environments, drive maintenance and a number of other factors.

These results beg the question: How long would it take to hit the tape wear-out levels if the drive was running at the full data rate for uncompressed for each of these tapes?

Product Name Uncompressed Capacity (Native) Wear Time at Full Rate in Hours Wear Time at Full Rate in Days
Imation T10000 500 GB 237.04 9.88
Imation T10000B 1000 GB 474.07 19.75
Imation LTO 1 100 GB 406.35 16.93
Imation LTO 2 200 GB 406.35 16.93
Imation LTO 3 400 GB 517.17 21.55
Imation LTO 4 800 GB 379.26 15.80
Imation LTO 5 1500 GB 609.52 25.40

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