The hot new storage technology for 2011 is... tape


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For more than a decade vendors with only disk-based storage systems have been trying to convince IT buyers that tape-based storage is obsolete. Despite the marketing efforts of disk-only vendors, tape continues to play a vital role in most data centers. And thanks to its energy efficiency and massive capacity, tape is more relevant than ever. Read this report sponsored by HP + Intel from Data Mobility Group to see how and why savvy enterprises are turning to tape -based storage for all their archiving needs.

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The hot new storage technology for 2011 is... tape

  1. 1. Data Walt Purvis Mobility Group March 1, 2011Research Note The hot new storage technology for 2011 is… tape? Thanks to its energy efficiency and massive capacity, plus significant advances in technology and functionality, tape is more relevant than ever. For more than a decade vendors with only disk-based storage systems have been trying to convince IT buyers that tape-based storage is obsolete. Despite the marketing efforts of disk-only vendors, tape continues to play a vital role in most data centers and Data Mobility Group believes tape will become even more important in the years ahead. Factors underlying this belief include: • Trends in data storage and information management. • The traditional advantages of tape. • Advances in tape technology that increase performance, capacity, and reliability. • A vibrant ecosystem of software solutions that expand the utility of tape. • Tape is ideally suited for archive storage. These factors are converging in such a way that savvy enterprises will increasingly turn to tape-based storage, especially for archiving. Copyright © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication without prior written permission is forbidden. Organizations interested in obtain- ing distribution rights for this report must contact Joseph Martins, Managing Director of Data Mobility Group. Data Mobility Group believes the statements contained herein are based on accurate and reliable information. However, because information is provided to Data Mobility Group from various sources, we cannot warrant that this publication is complete and error-free. Data Mobility Group disclaims all implied warranties, including warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. Data Mobility Group shall have no liability for any direct, incidental, special, or consequential damages or lost profits. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. 63 Jennison Rd, Milford, NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email:
  2. 2. Data Mobility Storage trends & the advantages of tape Three large secular trends deserve mention: 1. Rampant growth in the volume of data. Enterprises generate mind-boggling amounts of data. This is a high-definition age. We shoot video at 720p, minimum, phones have 12-megapixel cameras, and higher definition applies to more than just cameras—we’re capturing more data than ever before for science, engineering, business analytics, healthcare, security, government, and so on. 2. Increased data retention periods. A number of regulations mandate that data be kept on hand for years or even decades. In addition, enterprises are holding onto more and more data just because it might have value someday: transactional business data that could possibly yield valuable information with the right analytics applied; old video that could be repackaged or relicensed; scientific data that could be needed for future analysis. 3. Prioritization of cost-containment. Storage budgets are under pressure. A skeptical eye is cast at capital expenditures, especially expensive disk arrays. Operating expenses face similar scrutiny, yet electricity costs keep going up and some data centers run into hard limits in floor space and power. Anyone who works in storage is painfully aware of these trends, but few storage professionals seem to recognize how perfectly the above trends match up with the strengths and advantages of tape-based storage: 1. Tape provides massive storage capacity, density, and throughput. Scaling up capacity can be as simple as purchasing additional cartridges. 2. The longevity of tape is measured in decades—LTO cartridges have a 30-year shelf life—and cartridges can be easily copied and stored off-site for guaranteed redundancy and cost-effective disaster recovery protection. 3. Tape cartridges sitting in a library or vault consume no electricity in contrast to power-hungry spinning disks. Automated tape libraries have markedly lower operating expenses than disk arrays, and with a proper archiving strategy most data could be stored on tape rather than on expensive disk arrays. © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group. Address: 63 Jennison Road, Milford NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email:
  3. 3. Data Mobility Advances in tape technology The past few years have seen dramatic improvements in several areas of tape technology: • Reliability. New materials and drives combined with error correction and read-after- write verification have made tape far more reliable than it used to be. In addition, modern tape libraries automatically monitor the status and health of cartridges, drives, and other components, proactively alerting administrators to potential problems. People with no-so-fond memories of older, inferior-quality drives and DLT tapes may still think of tape as more prone to data errors than disk, but that perception is outdated and false; today’s tape is actually more reliable than disk. • Capacity and throughput. The latest generation of LTO Ultrium cartridges (LTO-5) hold three terabytes of data (with 2:1 compression) and have a compressed transfer speed of 280 megabytes per second. LTO-6 cartridges will store up to 8 TB compressed and the roadmap extends through LTO-8 with a projected capacity of 32 TB per cartridge. • Encryption and WORM. The LTO-4 specification introduced AES-256 hardware-based encryption for all generations moving forward, which keeps data secure by rendering lost or stolen tapes essentially unusable. LTO-5, LTO-4 and LTO-3 cartridges are available with write- once-read-many (WORM) capability to prevent overwriting of data. Encryption and WORM features help organizations meet information governance, risk, and compliance standards. • Linear Tape File System (LTFS). The LTO-5 specification includes the ability to partition a tape into two segments. That might not seem like a big deal, but it enables something truly exciting: the Linear Tape File System. With LTFS, a small partition is used to store index information and metadata about the contents of the other, larger partition. This creates a self- describing tape, meaning that no particular application is needed to figure out what’s on the tape because the contents of the second partition are described by the index and metadata in the first partition. A tape formatted with LTFS looks just like an ordinary file system; it can be mounted like any hard drive or thumb-drive. (Drivers are available for OS X, Windows, and Linux.) Users can even drag-and-drop files to and from a mounted LTFS formatted tape. LTFS opens up new possibilities for incorporating tape into workflows and makes long-term archival easier and more robust. LTFS is truly a breakthrough in tape technology. © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group. Address: 63 Jennison Road, Milford NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email:
  4. 4. Data Mobility Value-added solutions The traditional advantages of tape and the steady stream of improvements in tape technology have fostered a thriving ecosystem of after-market solution providers. These solutions enable enterprises to leverage tape’s strengths while overcoming some of its unique challenges. Some examples: • Index Engines has developed some near-magical software that extracts, catalogs, and full-text indexes data from backup images—including tape—without the need to first restore the data and without the original backup software. This enables an organization to cull out only the relevant data from their backup images. For e-discovery and litigation support, Index Engines is well-nigh indispensable. Their solution turns an extremely expensive and time-consuming nightmare into a manageable undertaking and sharply lowers the cost. • Crossroads’ ReadVerify Appliance (RVA) drops into the storage network and non-disruptively communicates with tape libraries to monitor the health of tape media and drives. RVA collects data and provides reports on performance and utilization. RVA also has an ArchiveVerify feature that checks to make sure all tape media is fully readable. • Fujifilm StorageIQ bundles the Crossroads RVA with a professional services offering. Fujifilm offers a number of monitoring and verification services with StorageIQ—for example, an Archive Verification Service, a Tape Environment Analysis, and a Library Monitoring & Alert Service. • Archiving and virtual file system solutions present a file system interface to tape libraries. Users and administrators see ordinary file shares, but behind the scenes some files may be stored on disk arrays while others are on tape. Data can be transparently migrated between disk, tape, and other storage mediums, based on policies. Products in this category include: FileTek’s StorHouse, SGI’s InfiniteStorage Data Migration Facility, QStar’s HSM/Data Director, Atempo Digital Archive, XenData Archive Series, and tools from BridgeHead Software and Dataglobal. These products illustrate the kinds of inventive solutions that have come to market in the past few years, and there is still plenty of ongoing innovation. The abundance of archiving solutions is indicative of tape’s historically strong position in data archiving; DMG expects tape to become even more widely adopted for archive storage over the next several years, for reasons we will consider presently. © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group. Address: 63 Jennison Road, Milford NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email:
  5. 5. Data Mobility Implementing an active archive strategy based on tape The word archive calls to mind a musty chamber in the basement where old manuscripts and paperwork go to die. In the storage world, it has often meant tape cartridges sent off to a warehouse, probably never to be accessed again. All too often these tapes just hold really old backups. Keeping old backups is not the same thing as having an archive. In fact, having really old backups around is more of a problem than a solution. An active archive is one that’s online with data readily accessible to applications or people who may need it, as opposed to an offline archive (e.g., tape cartridges in a warehouse somewhere). The term can be a bit confusing because the data in the archive tier of an active archive is actually inactive data. However, since the archive is online and has a standard file system interface, data can be quickly retrieved when needed, either directly from tape or copied to primary disk storage. The ability to pull up dormant data in a timely manner is the key feature of an active archive. This enables an organization to respond to new business opportunities, e-discovery or litigation support requests, compliance audits, customer inquiries, etc. The highlights of a tape-based active archive include: • Greatly reduced power and cooling costs. • Lowest total cost of ownership, by a considerable margin. • Scalability to handle extreme data growth. • Longevity and reliability. • Built-in encryption and WORM for safeguarding data and regulatory compliance. • Can clone some or all archive data and store cartridges off-site. • Less data on disk reduces disk backup times. The chief disadvantage to using tape for the archive tier is that it takes longer for the initial access to data. With disk, data transfer starts almost instantly; with tape libraries it can take up to 1-2 minutes to locate the data and begin streaming. But for the majority of use cases a slight delay is acceptable and it would be folly to forego the overwhelming benefits and advantages of tape on that account. © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group. Address: 63 Jennison Road, Milford NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email:
  6. 6. Data Mobility DMG has been touting the benefits of an active archive strategy since 2005, but back then we defined an active archive as one where the archived data was stored on disk rather than tape. We were aware that some organizations were using tape as an online (or near-line) archive, but we didn’t consider this a broadly applicable solution; for most organizations, tape was only used as an offline backup medium, and solutions for implementing virtual file systems and tiered storage were not as advanced or as widely available as they are today. Now that file system front-ends to tape libraries and tiered storage software are widely available, and tape technology has improved dramatically, and given the acknowledged advantages of tape, we think it’s time to promote tape to the status of preferred storage technology for the archive tier. Continuous data growth as well as data center energy costs and limitations has made it ever more untenable to keep inactive data on primary disk, but for various reasons even inactive data must remain accessible. An active archive infrastructure is now an absolute necessity for many enterprises. DMG recommends that enterprises seriously consider using tape in their archive tier. Tape’s role in backup & disaster recovery For short-term primary backups, tape remains a good choice for some applications, but in most environments disk has become the preferred medium due to its ease of use and quick restores. On the other hand, for long-term backup, tape still fulfills an important need for off-site disaster recovery; remote replication from disk-to-disk is too expensive for many organizations, and large-scale restores over a WAN are problematic, so best practices for most organizations will continue to involve storing off-site tape backups in a disk-to-disk-to-tape approach. Using tape for primary storage Tape is inherently well-suited for storing certain types of data. For example: • Streaming data—e.g., audio and video. • Data that is generated and/or processed sequentially—genomic sequencing data and many other kinds of scientific data fall into this category. • Any kind of large, contiguous files that are read or written sequentially. © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group. Address: 63 Jennison Road, Milford NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email:
  7. 7. Data Mobility Organizations that deal in large quantities of such data find tape-based storage systems to be useful not just for backups and archives but also as their main or primary storage platform. Tape has a strong presence in the broadcast, media, and entertainment industry for good reason—it is an ideal medium for storing high-definition video. Many HPC and scientific environments rely on tape to economically store petabytes of data. These organizations may use disk storage as a staging area for work-in-progress or for ingesting new data, but the vast majority of their data resides on tape and is accessed directly from tape whenever it’s needed (although it might get temporarily cached on disk or in memory). Virtual file system interfaces make it possible to easily integrate tape-based storage into workflows. In certain configurations tape can be faster than disk for large file transfers. In applications where a single data file might be tens or hundreds of gigabytes large (and files greater than a terabyte are not unheard of), the initial access time—i.e., the minute or two it might take for a tape library to load the cartridge and locate the file—is a negligible concern. Tape’s streaming performance can more than compensate for the slight access delay. Many organizations today have applications and data profiles that resemble those found in industries where tape-based storage has proven itself to be invaluable (i.e., media, entertainment, HPC, scientific research, etc.). Such organizations should explore whether their storage requirements might best be met by using tape as a primary storage platform. Summing Up Tape-based storage is more relevant today than ever before. Depending on the application and overall environment, tape can be an optimal choice for backup, disaster recovery, archiving, or even primary storage. Tape especially shines for large-scale, long-term archiving. When implementing an active archive strategy, tape has significant advantages over disk, both in cost and functionality. Now that software exists to make tape a first-class online storage target, the cost savings—in particular, the greatly reduced power and cooling expenses—and the benefits of being able to create a portable off- line copy of invaluable data are too great to ignore. DMG encourages all organizations to take a fresh look at tape. © 2002-2011 Data Mobility Group. Address: 63 Jennison Road, Milford NH 03055 Phone: 603.574.4764 Email: