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John in Brentwood, Tennessee listens on SuperTalk 99.7 WTN and asked: “Question about LTO data tape: because I have several terabytes of information on spinning hard drives, a couple of SSDs, and I have been told that LTO data tape is a reliable format for me to backup and archive a lot of this data that I’m trying to manage. Is that true? Is there a price range that I should be expecting to pay for an LTO drive?”
John, LTO — or Linear Tape-Open — tape has gone through several generations. The eighth generation is the latest one and it can store around 12TB of raw data, or around 30TB of compressed data.
It is a reliable format, the expected lifespan is usually between 15 and 30 years and the cartridges are pretty resistant to things like vibration.
There’s also constant improvement by the LTO consortium, so even though we’re currently in the 8th generation of the technology they have already mapped out the path to the 12th generation with 192TB cartridges.
LTO is usually something that data-intensive businesses use rather than consumers, and you will need equipment that is marketed to those data-intensive businesses, so you’re right to be concerned about price.
Assuming you stick to the latest generation, you’re looking at several hundred dollars per cartridge of tape, and the drive to actually read them and write to them will likely cost you several thousands.
If your collection really is huge it may be worth the money, but if what you have really is just a few HDDs and SSDs, it probably won’t make any sense to make that kind of an investment. You’re probably better off just buying some regular drives, maybe HDDs since SSDs have driven down the price, and just back up your data that way.
There’s also an important point that you need to consider: tape is still tape. The concept of spooling still exists and it can’t randomly jump back and forth in the spool with ease. That means that if you happen to write something to the tape today, keep adding to it for a week and then want to rewrite what you wrote today, well.. you can’t. You can keep adding to the tape, buy you can’t write a block and then jump somewhere else for another block, you pretty much can only keep going forward where the tape is empty so you don’t overwrite anything.
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