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Still Loving Tape in 2015

by Administrator on January 17, 2015

googletapeRegular readers of this blog know probably too well my long standing affection for tape technology.  I know.  I know.  Cloud (mostly disk-based) storage is getting pretty cheap as the price wars between the industrial farmers in the cloud — Google, AWS and Microsoft — continue to exert downward pressure.  That’s all good, until it goes pear-shaped for one of the aforementioned providers.  When profit-free quarters fail to impress shareholders, there will be an adjustment.  And all of the little guys that source their cloudy storage from the big vendors will hit a wall.

But enough doom and gloom.  I like where tape is going.  Huge capacity, good speeds and feeds, predictable and consistent operation and jitter free streaming, low cost per GB, low impact on the environment, the whole enchilada.  I also like how AWS and Google have admitted that they are themselves using tape in the back end.  Heck Google has conceded publicly that its email service would have been non-recoverable in an outage that occurred last year had it not been for good old tape.

The coatings have improved, with Barium Ferrite providing a springboard for huge capacity improvements in the same form factor cartridge and tape length.  Robotics are getting better and cheaper.  The software for media lifecycle management has improved significantly.  This is a technology that is firing on all thrusters.

The only problem is what Spectra Logic’s Matt Star likes to call the Carbon Robot (the operator, that is).  One thing a tape can’t handle is being dropped to a hard floor or surface.  When that happens, all bets are off when it comes to durability, reliability, performance and capacity.  That’s why, if you drop a tape, you owe it to your company and to the technology to set the “shocked” tape to one side.  Don’t use it.  You are asking for trouble.

Seems kind of sad that, for all the high tech innovation that has been invested in the media and drives, a stupid thing like a shocked tape can screw the pooch.  Sort of Apollo 13-ish, for those old enough to remember the story or to have seen the Ron Howard film.apollo13  A simple procedure for stirring oxygen tanks causes one to explode and puts the crew in jeopardy.

Anyway, for a technology with so much going for it, such a simple thing like dropping the media accidentally, then using it anyway will shortly put up to 180 TB at risk — and that is without compression.  That is pretty bad.

So, what is required to idiot proof the media cartridge?  What will it take to let the admin or operator know when a cartridge has been dropped or otherwise shocked and should not be used.

I had the pleasure of talking about this issue with Wayne Tolliver, formerly of Spectra Logic and now CTO of his own firm, ShockSense Enterprises LLC, while I was doing standup comedy at Storage Decisions in November.  I learned about his fix for the problem and committed this interview to tape.  Here it is for you to digest.

ShockSense is a great idea:  simple in its conception and implementation, brilliant in its ease of use and non-disruptive integration into tape operations.  I love this freaking idea and I am jealous of Wayne for dreaming it up.  On the other hand, I wish him every success both in finding investors and in garnering the support of the tape industry that would be asinine if they did not leverage ShockSense technology to fix tape’s one last vulnerability.

I will be happy to pass along Wayne’s contact information to anyone who wants to explore the possibilities.  Contact me.

Special thanks to Wayne Tolliver, Chief Technology Officer for ShockSense Enterprises LLC, for his creativity and humility.  You are a credit to the American spirit of invention and innovation…as well as being a pretty great guy.

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