Storage Newsletter reports that Tape Drive and Media Revenues Decreased by 25% in 2009. The data comes from a report by the Santa Clara Consulting Group.

The numbers show us how old tape formats die: slowly. While the overall market for drives and media was $1.58B it was split among LTO, DLT, DAT, 8mm and even, gasp, QIC.

The good news: drive sales were $629M, suggesting that media sales will continue for years to come. LTO had over 83% of drive sales – $534M – with DAT (!) drives making most of the rest – $69M – and DLT much of the remainder.

The media numbers are revealing. Overall, media sales were only about 50% greater than drive sales or $955M. But in the case of DAT, media sales of $45M were less than drive sales. Buyers aren’t making much use of their new drives.

8 mm and QIC bring up the rear. Somebody bought over a million units of AIT media and over $16M of QIC media.

The StorageMojo take
The long tail of tape is longer than I’d thought. There must be ancient systems out in retail or OEM equipment that use the media. Military, too.

But why that 25% drop in the overall tape market? I’d need more time series data to draw any firm conclusions, but here’s what I’d look at:

  • The Great Recession. The overall slowing in business and capital expenditures is a piece of that. But the world economy did not decline 25%, thank goodness, so that can’t be the full cause.
  • D2D. Data de-duplication is aimed at making disk competitive with tape. Looks like 2009 was the year it took a byte out of tape.
  • Tape capacity growth. The LTO folks have been increasing LTO tape capacity at a rate near that of disk. More data, fewer tapes. Disks, of course, wear out, so the replacement market is huge.
  • Drive cost. At $3-$4k for an LTO 5 drive and $125 per 3 TB tape, the use of tape is moving upmarket, which means smaller volumes.

Some people love what tape does. But others don’t: I haven’t seen a new tape or disk-based camcorder introduced in over a year. Everyone is going to flash.

$1.5B markets don’t die overnight – even dropping 25% a year. Tape will be around for a long time to come.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. I kicked off DLT for DEC back in 1991 and have always wondered why Quantum just rolled over for LTO instead of fighting. Oh well.