We’ve seen a vast number of revolutions in data protection in the past decade, most notably from cloud technologies, virtualization and deduplication. Without a doubt the modern backup administrator has many excellent technologies to choose from. And the backup technologies that reign supreme, as we all know, are the ones that meets the needs of the organization quickly, reliably and affordably.
But let’s take a look at the less glamorous evolutions that have taken place. Is tape dead? Are people still using it in this day and age? They are, and it’s not going away any time soon. How does this tried and true technology it still hang on? While the role of magnetic tape has evolved in terms of speed and storage, with LTO-8 technology offering 30TB of compressed data, and speeds that top out at 750mb/sec, this is not the primary reasons that savvy backup administrators still see this tech as a viable option. (Common Myths and Rumors about Magnetic Tape – Whitepaper)
Off-Line Data Protection
Organizations must ensure that at least one backup set is truly inaccessible to avoid hacking and corruption. Keeping this data impervious to modern threats such as ransomware can only be 100% guaranteed when exposed systems are disconnected, and an “air gap” is created. While many cloud solutions attempt to accomplish this virtually, it is often only fully realized with technologies like tape.
Some organizations are also required to secure data for several years to meet regulatory compliance obligations (HIPAA, etc). Numerous sector-specific data laws (especially Government) may require internally managed backup solutions as well. The offline nature of tape can provide data privacy as well as compliance under a fixed budget.
Long-Term Data Storage
Data that must be secured for the long-term is often different in nature than day-to-day file backup data. Data that is still changing, being accessed and modified daily – should be placed into a regular backup schedule using the storage technologies of your choice. Data which must be secured for the long term is an excellent candidate for magnetic tape.
Cost, Life Span, Energy Savings and Portability
Cost: While there is upfront cost with the purchase of a modern tape library with initial tapes, continued maintenance cost is generally a small fraction of adding drives or paying for additional online storage. Let’s say you purchase an LTO-8 Tape Library for around $10,000 and a 10 pack of LTO-8 tapes (120TB of Native Storage) for around $3000 USD. To host that same 120TB of data in the cloud for just 1-Year comes well over $20,000. Businesses of all sizes are finding value in storage on a highly stable medium, which requires little in terms of monthly upkeep.
Life Span: Typical HDD lifespans are around 3-5 years, with SSD drives improving on that with a life span of 5-10 years or even longer. LTO tape is designed for 15 to 30 years of storage. Cloud storage providers claim to have numerous built in redundancies, and they generally do. But hopefully contingencies are also in place should that provider simply go out of business or suffer a catastrophic incident.
Energy Savings: When compared to the costs involved with keeping spinning disks in a storage array cool, you are talking about 100’s of times less energy consumption. Yes, this is good for the planet, but it’s also good for your bottom line in energy costs.
Portability: Tapes are small, and easy to transfer offsite in the event of a natural disaster. Keeping a drive ready at a remote location ensures restorability. Data stored for the long term should be out of general use, meaning employees will not have a problem if files are moved to alternate locations.
While we’ve seen a decline in the use of tape over the years in the role of an every-day backup medium, tape backup solutions still play a critical role. With a proven track record of recoverability, tape cannot be overlooked as a viable option for the final stages of data protection and storage.