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Hard Disk Storage is Cheaper than Ever: Why Do You Still Use Tape?

Hard Disk Storage is Cheaper than Ever: Why Do You Still Use Tape?

Which commodity has for the past several decades, consistently improved in quality while substantially declining in price? If you answered hard disk storage, you’re correct. Storage on hard drives today is much less expensive than it once was, and it performs much better. This means that if your storage strategy dates from a decade ago, it may be time to rethink it.

Allow me to reminisce a bit. My first computer, an IBM PS/2 that my grandparents gave me circa 1992, came with a hard disk that sported 256 megabytes – yes, megabytes – of storage.

After a couple of years of filling up that disk with DOS freeware games, I ran out of space. So, I diligently saved my birthday money and bought a new, 500-megabyte hard disk. It cost about $200, which easily made it the biggest purchase of my life.

Fast forward to the present and that money would easily get you 5 terabytes of storage – which, for those of you keeping track at home, is one million times as much storage as I had in the heyday of my PS/2. And that’s not even adjusting for inflation!

Hard Disk Storage is Cheaper than Ever: Why Do You Still Use Tape?

Disk Storage is Cheaper than Ever – and It’s Getting Cheaper Still

My experience was not an anomaly. Disk storage has steadily and dramatically decreased in cost over the past several decades.

If you want to see just how much, check out this fascinating page. It notes that data cost about $193,000 per gigabyte in the early 1990s, compared to $0.07 in 2009. That’s a pretty stunning decline. If only the price of other commodities – like oil, food and gold – had followed the same pattern, we’d all be feeling pretty rich today.

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Disk Storage is Also Better

And that’s not all. In addition to declining in cost, data storage has also become much better, no matter how you measure it.

Read/write rates have improved dramatically. Data loss and file system corruption are no longer common problems (OK, that improvement has more to do with better software than better hardware, but the hardware helps).

Innovations like solid-state disks make it possible to toss your laptop out a window, while streaming data to disk, with a decently good chance that your files and hard drive will all come out OK (for the record, I decline all responsibility should you choose to test this).

According to Wikipedia, modern hard drives last about 11 times as long as they did when they were first introduced.

Related: Archiving Your Data for Regulatory Compliance with Hadoop and DMX-h

Making the Most of Modern Storage

Unless you live under a rock, you probably are already aware of everything I have noted above. You may therefore be wondering why this is relevant.

The reason is that it’s a reminder that if you are still clinging to legacy data storage media like tape archives, it’s high time you looked into replacing them with hard disks.

Yes, tape drives had their uses. They provided an affordable form of high-volume data storage at a time when large hard disks were just out of reach for most people. Their legacy will always live on in the venerable Unix tar command.

But today, tape drives no longer cut it in most respects when compared to hard drives. Drive-for-drive, the  storage capacity of tapes and hard disks is about the same. Hard disks’ life expectancy is at least as good.

The one place where hard drives come up a bit short when compared to tape is read/write speed. Tapes generally do better on this front – but solid-state disks are closing the gap.

And no matter how you slice it, hard disks are much cheaper gigabyte-for-gigabyte. That’s the biggest kicker.

Hard Disk Storage is Cheaper than Ever: Why Do You Still Use Tape?

Modernizing Your Storage with Syncsort

At this point, you may be thinking, “Hard disks sound great, but how do I actually move my data from tape to hard disk?”

That’s a fair question to ask. Moving data from tape to disk is not typically a drag-and-drop affair. You have to run a bunch of arcane commands (like the ones IBM summarizes here). And the transfer will take a long time if you have a lot of data.

A better approach is to take advantage of automated data migration solutions like Syncsort’s. Products like DMX-h handle the dirty work of tape-to-disk transfer for you. They allow you to ingest data automatically, in real time, from mainframe tape storage to a Hadoop environment running on disk.

With solutions like DMX-h, there’s really no excuse not to migrate to hard disks these days. Hard disks are smaller, more reliable and cheaper – and Syncsort makes the data migration as simple as doing any other kind of data transfer. Take the time to browse Syncsort’s available products.

Christopher Tozzi

Authored by Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has written about emerging technologies for a decade. His latest book, For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution, is forthcoming with MIT Press in July 2017.
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