Tape is so dead, 152.9 EB of LTO media shipped last year

Blame AI. No, seriously

Tape – as a digital storage medium – has been considered dead for your correspondent's entire 29-year career. But that didn't stop manufacturers behind the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) standard shipping 152.9* exabytes worth of the stuff last year.

HPE, IBM, and Quantum are the only three LTO Program Technology Providers, and last week jointly released The Annual LTO Program Media Shipment Report [PDF] which revealed that 152.9-exabyte figure along with the tidbit that it represents 3.14 percent shipment growth compared to 2022.

The three attributed some of that growth to "rapid data generation and the increased infrastructure requirements of hyperscalers and enterprises." Which is good news for tape – if hyperscalers are using it that likely means demand will continue for the foreseeable future.

Because it's 2024 they also attributed some demand for tape to AI, which the trio described as just the sort of workload that spawns unstructured data and can "cause increases in storage requirements and costs."

Tape has huge capacity, and can easily be taken offline. Purveyors therefore commend it as an ideal medium for bulk data that isn't often accessed – a role in which it can often be cheaper than disk – and to protect data by literally putting it on the shelf and therefore out of reach of ransomware infections.

Just don't mention access or restore times, which are not swift. Or the reason for that asterisk* up there, which we included because the LTO trio's 152.9EB figure refers to compressed tape capacity.

That matters, because each generation of LTO tape has a native capacity and a compressed capacity. In the case of the latest LTO generation – the ninth – compressed capacity is 45TB and native capacity is 18TB. LTO-8's numbers are 30TB and 12TB.

So suffice to say the 152.9EB figure is therefore a little less impressive that it appears at first blush. Remember, too, that compression and decompression may require compute resources and take time, meaning compressed capacity numbers come with an overhead, unless it's handled automatically by the tape equipment.

Know, also, that Seagate alone shipped 99 exabytes worth of hard disk drives in Q3 2024, as revealed in its late April results presentation [PDF]. Other hard disk makers will also have shipped many exabytes, as will vendors of solid state storage.

That said, 152.9 exabytes is a decidedly non-trivial sum, even if the native capacity of tapes shipped last year was probably around a third of the headline figure.

Even at 50EB – 50,000 petabytes – that's a lot of cat videos, scraped-for-free LLM corpus data, log files, and whatever else it is that people put on tape so it's always around. Just like tape itself. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like