"Just because you don't want to deal with tape ... doesn't absolve you of the business requirements of holding your data for five years or seven years," ESG's Buffington says. "Your data almost inevitably is going to still live on tape, before it's over."
While cutting-edge cloud companies may not say they're using tape, it's part of the picture for many of them, he said. For example, the Amazon Glacier service from Amazon Web Services is probably based on tape, analysts say. Glacier is designed for infrequently accessed data and typically delivers information in three to five hours, according to the company. AWS would not confirm that the service uses tape.
Tape also has a role to play in big-data analysis, where crunching large amounts of information from different sources can yield new insights. Even though those operations typically use HDDs for fast access, the data being processed may well come out of long-term tape storage, Baltazar said.
[Related: Strategic Guide to Big Data Analytics]
IDC's Digital Universe report released earlier this year, which was sponsored by EMC, estimated that 40 zettabytes of digital data would be produced over the next eight years. That's equivalent to 5,200GB for every person on Earth, the study said. There will be reason to retain much of that data over the long term, according to the report, which estimated that 33 percent of all data by 2020 will contain information that might be worth analyzing.
Meanwhile, storage vendors that make tape equipment aren't backing out of the market, Pund-IT's King said.
"I could imagine a point in the future where tape will become a dinosaur, but right now ... companies are all making hundreds of millions or billions of dollars a year on tape [product] sales," King said. "So I don't envision tape disappearing any time soon."
Stephen Lawson is a senior U.S. correspondent, based in San Francisco, for IDG News service. He covers storage and wired and wireless networks.
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