10 tape technology features that make you go hmm.

A week ago an Oracle/StorageTek Tape Specialist, Christian Vanden Balck, visited Vienna, and agreed to visit customers to do techtalks and update them about the technology boom going around tape.
I had the privilege to attend some of his sessions and noted the information and features that took the customers by surprise and made them think.

Allow me to share the top 10:

I. StorageTek as a brand: StorageTek is one of he strongest names in the Tape field. The brand itself was valued so much by customers that even after Sun Microsystems acquiring StorageTek and the Oracle acquiring Sun the brand lives on with all the Oracle tapelibraries are officially branded StorageTek.
See http://www.oracle.com/us/products/servers-storage/storage/tape-storage/overview/index.html

II. Disk information density limitations: Disk technology struggles with information density. You haven't seen the disk sizes exploding lately, have you? That's partly because there are physical limits on a disk platter. The size is given, the number of platters is limited, they just can't grow, and are running out of physical area to write to. Now, in a T10000C tape cartridge we have over 1000m long tape. There you go, you have got your physical space and don't need to stuff all that data crammed together. You can write in a reliable pattern, and have space to grow too.

III. Oracle has a market share of 62% worldwide in recording head manufacturing. That's right. If you are running LTO drives, with a good chance you rely on StorageTek production. That's two out of three LTO recording heads produced worldwide. 

IV. You can store 1 Exabyte data in a single tape library. Yes, an Exabyte. That is 1000 Petabytes. Or, a million Terabytes. A thousand million GigaBytes. You can store that in a stacked StorageTek SL8500 tapelibrary. In one SL8500 you can put 10.000 T10000C cartridges, that store 10TB data (compressed). You can stack 10 of these SL8500s together. Boom. 1000.000 TB.
(n.b.: stacking means interconnecting the libraries. Yes, cartridges are moved between the stacked libraries automatically.) 

V. EMC: 'Tape doesn't suck after all. We moved on.': Do you remember the infamous 'Tape sucks, move on' Datadomain slogan? Of course they had to put it that way, having only had disk products. But here's a fun fact: on the EMCWorld 2012 there was a major presence of a Tape-tech company - EMC, in a sudden burst of sanity is embracing tape again.

VI. The miraculous T10000C: Oracle StorageTek has developed an enterprise-grade tapedrive and cartridge, the T10000C. With awesome numbers:

  • The Cartridge:
    • Native 5TB capacity, 10TB with compression
    • Over a kilometer long tape within the cartridge. And it's locked when unmounted, no rattling of your data. 
    • Replaced the metalparticles datalayer with BaFe (bariumferrite) - metalparticles lose around 7% of magnetism within 30 days. BaFe does not. Yes we employ solid-state physicists doing R&D on demagnetisation in our labs.
    • Can be partitioned, storage tiering within the cartridge! 
  • The Drive:
    • 2GB Cache
    • Encryption implemented in HW - no performance hit
    • 252 MB/s native sustained data rate, beats disk technology by far. Not to mention peak throughput. 
    • Leading the tape while never touching the data side of it, protecting your data physically too
    • Data integritiy checking (CRC recalculation) on tape within the drive without having to read it back to the server
    • reordering data from tape-order, delivering it back in application-order 
    • writing 32 tracks at once, reading them back for CRC check at once

VII. You only use 20% of your data on a regular basis. The rest 80% is just lying around for years. On continuously spinning disks. Doubly consuming energy (power+cooling), blocking diskstorage capacity. There is a solution called SAM (Storage Archive Manager) that provides you a filesystem unifying disk and tape, moving data on-demand and for clients transparently between the different storage tiers. You can share these filesystems with NFS or CIFS for clients, and enjoy the low TCO of tape. Tapes don't spin. They sit quietly in their slots, storing 10TB data, using no energy, producing no heat, automounted when a client accesses their data.
See: http://www.oracle.com/us/products/servers-storage/storage/storage-software/storage-archive-manager/overview/index.html

VIII. HW supported for up to two decades: Did you know that the original PowderHorn library was released in '93 and has been only discontinued in 2010? That is nearly two decades of supported operation. Tape libraries are - just like the data carrying on tapecartridges - built for longevity. Oh, and the T10000C cartridge has 30-year archival life for long-term retention. 

IX. Tape is easy to manage: Have you heard of Tape Storage Analytics? It is a central graphical tool to summarize, monitor, analyze dataflow, health and performance of drives and libraries, see: http://www.oracle.com/us/products/servers-storage/storage/tape-storage/tape-analytics/overview/index.html

X. The next generation: The T10000B drives were able to reuse the T10000A cartridges and write on them even more data. On the same cartridges. We call this investment protection, and this is very important for Oracle for the future too. We usually support two generations of cartridges together. The current drive is a T10000C

(...I know I promised to enlist 10, but I got still two more I really want to mention. Allow me to work around the problem: )

X++. The TallBots, the robots moving around the cartridges in the StorageTek library from tapeslots to the drives are cableless. Cables, belts, chains running to moving parts in a library cause maintenance downtimes. So StorageTek eliminated them. The TallBots get power, commands, even firmwareupgrades through the rails they are running on. Also, the TallBots don't just hook'n'pull the tapes out of their slots, they actually grip'n'lift them out. No friction, no scratches, no zillion little plastic particles floating around in the library, in the drives, on your data.

(X++)++: Tape beats SSDs and Disks. In terms of throughput (252 MB/s), in terms of TCO: disks cause around 290x more power and cooling, in terms of capacity: 10TB on a single media and soon more. 

So... do you need to store large amounts of data? Are you legally bound to archive it for dozens of years? Would you benefit from automatic storage tiering? Have you got large mediachunks to be streamed at times? Have you got power and cooling issues in the growing datacenters? Do you find EMC's 180° turn of tape attitude interesting, but appreciate it at the same time? With all that, you aren't alone. The most data on this planet is stored on tape.

Tape is coming. Big time.


Powderhorn was next generation library introduced in 1993. The library in 1988 was the 4410.

Posted by guest on August 01, 2012 at 10:19 AM CEST #

You're right, thanks for pointing in out, I will update the post accordingly.

Posted by Karoly Vegh on August 01, 2012 at 12:51 PM CEST #

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This is the Technology Blog of the Oracle Hardware Presales Consultant Team in Vienna, Austria. We post about our technology fields: server- and storage hardware, operating system technologies, virtualization, clustering, datacenter management and performance tuning possibilities.


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