Warranty on LTO tapes and replacement

TL;DR: The short read is that

  • LTO tapes come with a limited lifetime warranty, typically lasting around 4-5 years, but it does not cover wear and tear.
  • Failures with LTO tapes are rare, with return rates almost zero,
  • In most cases, issues arise with the tape drive rather than the tapes themselves.

LTO tapes are more reliable than HDD and flash, hence the limited lifetime warranty offered by all the vendors like HP, IBM, Quantum, and Fuji ( eventually there are only 2 manufacturers - Sony and Fuji so the warranty has to be same)

What is the limited lifetime warranty on LTO tapes ? What is the lifetime ?

But what does "limited lifetime warranty" mean for LTO tapes? It's important to distinguish between the tape's lifetime and its shelf life. While the shelf life of a tape is typically 30 years, it's impossible for the warranty to cover such a lengthy period. For instance, if you were to request a warranty replacement for an LTO-1 tape released in 2001 (23 years ago), no manufacturer would provide one, as these tapes are no longer in production. Today in 2024 the oldest tape being manufactured is LTO-6 tape which was released 10 years back and I expect vendors to stop it this year.

So, the tape's lifetime refers to the expected useful lifespan during which new tapes of that generation are available and practical to acquire. In this context, 4-5 years is a reasonable estimate. Additionally, wear from usage is not covered by the warranty.

Failure Rates of LTO tapes are almost Zero

I have been selling tapes for over 25 years, so I can give you first hand experience with failure rates - their failure rate is exceedingly low ; almost zero . In the best year, I sold 180K tapes with only 25 returns, equating to a mere 0.01%. This trend persists consistently every year. I get less than 10 tapes in some years and its cheaper to just replace them than sending back to vendor.

If your LTO tape is not working, mostly the issue is with the tape drive /environment

In the Middle East, HPE holds the largest market share, so my experience primarily revolves around sending tapes back to HPE, we did it 2 times. HPE typically requests that you fill out an escalation form and email it to them.

Escalation form is not just a form that you could fill saying "The tapes didn't work". they ask you to fill many details ( see the picture below)

Subsequently, they ask for a tape to be shipped to their lab for testing, after which they provide a technical report. In both the instances when I sent a tape , the reports indicated that there was nothing wrong with the Tape. The issue may lie with the drive itself rather than the tape.

Now this is where it gets interesting - there were 6 tapes that were not working with a tape drive, and other tapes did. So clearly this would be the problem with the tape , if there was a problem with the drive, other tapes won't work. However, we found that the settings of tape drive make a difference. Their engineer remotely adusted some timeout ( or sensitivity settings , not sure what it was and we didn't document it) enabled the initially problematic tape to function properly.