Magnetic Tape Data Storage

Magnetic Tape Data Storage Has Come a Long Way!

If you were using computers or listening to music between 1960 to 2000, you should be familiar with the device pictured right here. Tapes have been widely used for data storage since the post-war period of United States History. While tape storage has seen significant use, it is still an imperfect technology that can fail. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Gillware data recovery if your organization lost important data that was stored on tapes!


Magnetic Tape Data Storage

Gone is the era of VHS and floppy disks. Today, hard disk drives and flash storage (like solid state drives) are the preferred mediums for data storage. However, magnetic tape storage technology is not obsolete. Businesses large and small are experiencing an enormous surge in big-data analytics. Financial corporations must store records for considerably longer periods of time due to tighter financial regulations and restrictions. These conditions could be referred to as a perfect storm for data storage manufacturers, and while many of the companies that produced magnetic tape drives are defunct, the industry has endured despite a vast array of relative replacement technologies that are often easier to work with. With this rise in the volume of raw data, magnetic tape remains a favorable backup storage option for many companies. This is due to it being inexpensive and highly effective at storing large amounts of information. As a result, many enterprises and industries are still employing magnetic tape storage solutions such as tape libraries / tape silos in their back-up systems.

Benefits of Magnetic Tape Data Storage

Magnetic Tape Data Storage is Cost-Effective and Economic

Need more storage space? Magnetic tapes store files at a much lower cost than other storage devices like hard drives. When compared to other storage media, tape storage has the lowest unit price per volume. This is a tremendous advantage when a business is developing a large-scale data storage system. Most magnetic tape also allows for repeated data storage.

Since magnetic tape doesn’t require power to keep stored data intact, it is what is known as non-volatile storage. Data storage technology that is not capable of functioning without electricity such as RAM (random access memory) is one form of volatile data storage.

IBM Model 726, the first commercially available digital-tape storage system, could hold approximately 1.1 megabytes of stored data. Today, the latest tape cartridges can store 15 terabytes.


Tape libraries are a fascinating system for data storage that many large scale data storage entities employ for archive storage. The system is similar to a jukebox, in that a robotic arm is used to access tape storage drives from the cylindrical unit in which they are housed.

The tape drive recovery experts at Gillware are more than capable of assisting your organization with data recovery or data migration from tape storage drives. A single tape library can store up to 278 petabytes. While modern hard drives normally last 5 to 10 years, magnetic tape can last for decades.

Cybersecurity – Data Stored on Magnetic Tapes is Offline

Data leaks are a persistent and pervasive threat for everyone dealing with data securement and storage. Everything from social security numbers to online banking passwords can end up in malicious hands via data leaks. For businesses the long term consequences can include a loss of trust and a diminished reputation. Commonly stored target information typically includes employee records, business transaction history, and client details.

Many entities are opting for offline data storage to prevent intentional and criminal misuse of privileged data. Magnetic tapes are usually stored offline which means that they can only be loaded into a tape drive by giving a specific command. This makes them less prone to viruses and other malicious software that can breach your data security protocols.

Drawbacks of Magnetic Tape Data Storage

Magnetic Tapes are Prone to Corrosion

The average lifespan of a magnetic tape is 15–30 years. This means that data quality erodes over time.  Additionally, magnetic tape can be prone to physical and chemical damage. Such damage can slow the rate of data retrieval and extraction.  The magnetic tape is also in constant physical contact with the recording heads. This causes friction, wear, and occasionally, even tears. Therefore special equipment must be purchased to accurately read the data and preserve the lifespan of the magnetic tape.

Magnetic tape must be stored in a dust-free facility where the temperature and humidity can be controlled to prevent the tape from warping and twisting.

Working with Magnetic Tapes can be Time-consuming

Average data access times for magnetic tape are 50 to 60 seconds as opposed to 5 to 10 milliseconds for hard drives due to the long length of the tape held in a cartridge, which is usually hundreds of meters long. The reason has to do with some basic physics: you need to give each bit a smaller area if you want to record more data in a given area.

Moreover, the sequential access nature of the magnetic tape makes reading and writing data on it very slow. It is extremely difficult to read or write data randomly or directly without using sequential access.

Data Stored on Magnetic Tapes is Vulnerable to Human Error

Human error can result in accidental tape damage in a variety of ways, such as dropping a reel of magnetic tape or improperly threading a magnetic tape recorder. Operators must properly and logically label magnetic tapes to remember what data is on which tape and to prevent the accidental deletion of vital data.

The Test of Time

It’s not surprising that recent developments in big data analytics and machine learning systems have given businesses strong incentives to gather data on every measurable aspect of their operations.

Even though magnetic tapes are one of the earliest forms of electronic data storage, they have continued to be updated and remain relevant in contemporary times. Tape has survived for as long as it has for one primary reason: it is cheap(er). And the price is continually going down. Furthermore, magnetic tape works, it’s inexpensive, and it meets needs that other media can’t.

Looking to recover your data from magnetic tape storage? Start the recovery at Gillware today. With nearly twenty years of experience in the data recovery industry, there is no better choice for data loss from outdated magnetic tapes, tape systems, or tape-based backup solutions. Get your free consultation today.

JB Larson
JB Larson

JB Larson is technologist passionate about researching data storage devices, educating clients about technology, and playing the piano when he's not working.

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