Why is tape still used to archive data?

We still receive dozens of magnetic tape jobs every year, despite the format being dated. Tapes were first invented in 1928 and were used for sound recording purposes, and recently there has been a lot of debate about the role of tapes today; are magnetic tapes dead, or do they still have a role in data storage?

Tape durability

So why would anybody use tapes over hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid state drives (SSDs)? One reason is durability – tapes have a much longer lifespan, and can stand up to heat more. It’s very common for us to receive a magnetic tape from the late 1980s that is still readable, whereas the average hard drive will barely last five years. Solid state storage has a limited number of write cycles, and although the technology is improving, the flash chips aren’t as durable as magnetic tapes.

What are the read/write speeds of tapes like?

Modern storage systems tend to utilise hard drives due to their higher read/write speeds. While it is certainly true that write speeds is a lot faster on hard drives, once the correct tape has been found, data can be retrieved in a matter of seconds. Tapes are also much cheaper, with costing $0.01 per gigabyte of data, and are more reliable because they aren’t at risk from viruses. One other reason many businesses use tapes to backup is their low carbon footprint – they use far less power than hard disk drives.

When you combine tape’s low energy costs, durability, low cost per gigabyte, and superior storage capabilities, it’s clear the format still has a lot of life left in it yet, and will be seen as a viable solution for long-term data storage and archiving for many years to come.