Tape Storage Soars While HDD Sales Crash

IBM
(Image credit: IBM)

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. 

(Image credit: Storage Newsletter)

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.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • plateLunch
    I still have my QIC-80 and Travan tape drives and tapes. Are they going to be making a comeback?

    I was cleaning out my old stuff and was wondering if I'll ever need the data that I stored away on those tapes.
    Reply
  • donner
    If you really don't want to pay ransomware ransoms, offline (and offsite) backup is the solution and tape is the way to go. So, I don't expect tape to decline any time soon unless something with similar capacity and durability for offline storage comes along.
    Reply
  • PiranhaTech
    In the past, the price of tapes was expensive compared to hard drives. I did not see a point to them as a home consumer.

    I just saw some recent price of tape, and whoa. It's maybe $60 for a 12 TB tape, and that's a native 12 TB. If the drives were cheaper, I would be tempted. I saw the drives for maybe $3500... nope. However, it would make a lot of sense for the likes of a data center.
    Reply
  • rluker5
    I still hold a grudge against tapes because they kept getting chewed with my Ti-99/4A. I'm sure these are a lot better than the audiocassettes I used back then, but I don't need the space that bad.
    Reply
  • KE=MV2
    I have to admit I expected the opposite. With the constantly increasing capacity of HDDs, using nearline drives as backup media in an array is fast, and far less costly than in years prior.
    Reply
  • Mandark
    KE=MV2 said:
    I have to admit I expected the opposite. With the constantly increasing capacity of HDDs, using nearline drives as backup media in an array is fast, and far less costly than in years prior.
    Not me, hard drives fail too often tapes are reliable as all get out

    tape for backups, especially large back ups is the only way to go and when doing offsite back ups as mentioned above in the real world

    hard drives are fine at home
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    Tape & Optical Disc need to be cheap for consumer level backup.

    The tech is there to make it cheap, we just need Consumers to get in on "Backing Up" your stuff.
    Reply
  • Nikolay Mihaylov
    I wonder if the author has any reference for this claim: the latest LTO-8 tape cartridges with a Strontium Ferrite (SrFe) magnetic layer enable tapes to store up to 580TB of data.

    According to WIkipedia, LTO-8 tapes can store up to 12TB of uncompressed data. That's a far cry from 580TB.
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    Nikolay Mihaylov said:
    I wonder if the author has any reference for this claim: the latest LTO-8 tape cartridges with a Strontium Ferrite (SrFe) magnetic layer enable tapes to store up to 580TB of data.

    According to WIkipedia, LTO-8 tapes can store up to 12TB of uncompressed data. That's a far cry from 580TB.
    I think he's referring to this article:
    IBM and Fujifilm demo 580TB tape. Yes it’s a record
    Reply
  • Nikolay Mihaylov
    Kamen Rider Blade said:
    I think he's referring to this article:
    IBM and Fujifilm demo 580TB tape. Yes it’s a record
    Thanks for the link! It doesn't seem like sth you can buy today. A much more reasonable comparison would be to the highest capacity that can actually be bought today. Any idea what that is?
    Reply