A tape drive is a data storage device that reads and writes data using magnetic tape. Tape drives have data capacities of anywhere from a few hundred kilobytes to multiple terabytes.
The first tape drives were used in the 1950s. Cassette tapes are a common type of drive and were often used in households in the 20th century. Video Home System (VHS) tapes, which stored movies and other visual data, were also common household items. Plastic typically surrounds the tape so that it isn’t directly exposed to harmful elements.
The disadvantage of tape drives is that they are sequential-access devices, which means that to read any particular block of data, you need to read all the preceding blocks. This makes them much too slow for general-purpose storage operations.
However, tape is less expensive than cloud storage for making backups. Tape can also be cheaper than disk drives, and it’s much less expensive than solid-state drives, the fastest of which are used in top-tier enterprise data centers.
Though the data storage industry often discusses tape as a very outdated and slow method of storage, it’s still used heavily. For some purposes, such as hot storage for critical enterprise workloads, tape does not work: reading data from a tape is not sufficient for the low-latency random read speeds required by enterprise applications. However, according to the Tape Storage Council, tape storage is the most cost-effective option for long-term storage. Tape drives are also less likely to fail than HDDs, and they’re currently more scalable, while HDDs’ storage density has decreased significantly in recent years.
For secondary or tertiary methods of offsite backup, tape storage is a good option. The film industry also uses LTO—linear tape open, which has a much longer life than HDDs—to store large volumes of movie data.
Tape drives protect data from some security threats to which SSDs and cloud storage are more susceptible. Cloud-stored data can typically be accessed through a network, and networks are breachable. Tape, however, would be nearly impossible to hack. If physical tape cartridges are not destroyed, then data backed up on tape is safe from online threats such as ransomware because in storage, the contents of the tape itself are physically separated from the tape drives that read or write them. Too, tape can be stored in high-secure, disaster-hardened locations, thus lessening the possibility of physical damage.
Also Read: New Trends in Tape Storage
This article was updated June 2021 by Jenna Phipps.