While unit shipments of hard drives were down by at least 34% in 2022 compared to the prior year and capacity of HDDs also dropped year-over-year, sales of LTO (Linear Tape Open) tapes increased once again last year, according to Trendfocus data cited by Blocks & Files and Storage Newletter. In fact, analysts from Trendfocus believe that shipments of tapes used to store archives and for cold storage will keep growing at least through 2027. Analysts believe that aggregated capacity of all tape drives shipped in 2022 totaled 79.3 exabytes, up 14% year-over-year (YoY). This is significantly below total HDD capacity sold in 2022 as we are probably looking at at least 1 zetabyte even considering shipments declines due to weakness of nearline hard drive market in the second half of the year. But the point here is that sales of HDD capacity declined, whereas shipments of tape capacity grew.
Trendfocus forecasts that capacity of tape drives will keep growing in the coming years with a compound annual growth rate of 21%. In 2027, aggregated capacity of LTO tapes will total 207.1EB.
LTO tapes from companies like IBM, HPE, and Quantum are used by various operators of cloud datacenters to store archives that are barely ever accessed. Meanwhile, since the amount of data that needs to be stored continues to increase every year, demand for LTO tapes is increasing and will keep increasing for the foreseeable future. When it comes to capacity costs, LTO tapes are the cheapest way to store data. For example, the latest LTO-8 tape cartridges with a Strontium Ferrite (SrFe) magnetic layer enable tapes to store up to 580TB of data — almost 30 times as much as the highest capacity HDDs. Of course, they are considerably slower than hard drives due to higher latency, since tapes can only read or write sequentially, but for archives and backups this technology is good enough. While shipments of LTO tape cartridges increased in 2022, unit sales of hard drives declined again not only in the consumer space, but also in the datacenter space, something that has never happened before, according to Trendfocus. Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital shipped 35.2–36.4 million HDDs last year, down around 40% YoY. Exabyte shipments of nearline HDDs declined to 165EB–170EB in Q4 2022, down around 30% year-over-year due to the slowing economy and inventory corrections. 2023 is shaping up to be a rough year in the storage sector, both for SSDs and HDDs. But don't be surprised if, come next year, we once again see growth in the LTO tape storage segment.