Tapezilla vs Bluraya: battle of the archive beasts

Archive media are more important than ever for both legal and personal reasons. There's a fight between an enterprise stalwart upgraded with nanoparticles and a consumer-based 300GB optical with superhero endurance.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

In rapidly growing market potential competitors may not see each other for years. But slow-growth market are different: the competition is very clear; and you see them all the time.

Tape is the archiving champ and has been for decades. Reliable, less expensive than disks and available in large-scale robotic systems that store petabytes. All good then, but where now?

The latest wrinkle is barium ferrite. Fujifilm and IBM have partnered to demonstrate its advantages, which include densities up to 35TB per cartridge and greater reliability due to higher magnetic coercivity than metal particle.

Barium ferrite tape is been used for several years in the very high-end – drives that cost $50,000 or so – but Fujifilm has brought it to the lower-cost LTO. With the new formulation and 19nm particle sizes Fujifilm believes they'll keep LTO competitive for years to come.

Optical disc
But the optical disc people aren't standing still. Despite the decline in DVD drive sales in personal computers Panasonic believes there is a long-term future for optical drives at much higher capacities.

How high? Try 300 GB.

That certainly falls well short of maybe 35 TB on a single tape cartridge but Panasonic has shown an optical disc RAID that combines a dozen optical disks into a single virtual disk. The three layer, dual-sided Blu-ray technology claims a media life of 50 years as opposed to 30 years for the barium ferrite tape.

Be skeptical of both numbers but the optical folks appear to have an advantage in longevity. And while 12 300 GB disks is less capacity than a 4TB magnetic drive, many archive applications do not need the capacities of high-end tape and benefit by the random-access capability of disc.

The Storage Bits take
Archiving is becoming more important as the amount of data we generate grows. Our digital world needs long life archive storage.

Who will win? The long-term issue is investment, which means expected profitability.

For tape its stronghold is the very high-end market where petabytes of rarely-accessed data is stored for legal or commercial reasons. Those applications justify costly drives and exotic new tape/head combinations, as well as the robotics needed for thousands of cartridges. The economics of learning curves then make it feasible to bring these technologies to a broader market.

Optical's strength springs from the opposite end of the market: consumers. With billions of CDs and DVDs produced the optical drive market is secure for decades to come, even though optical drive and media production is declining. 4K home video and America's Third World network infrastructure (look out Estonia!) require mass production of high-capacity optical drives.

The archive battleground is the enterprise. Good news for companies who need to archive but want competitive choices to reduce costs.

Comments welcome, as always. Where do you think the crossover is between a $2000 tape drive with $80 10TB  cartridges and a $100 optical disc burner with $3 300GB media? Vendors are dying to know!

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