Is Tape Winding Down as a Backup Option? - EnterpriseStorageForum.com

Is Tape Winding Down as a Backup Option?

The recent well-publicized backup tape losses at the likes of Bank of America and Ameritrade appear to be pushing some storage end users to consider alternative technologies such as virtual tape and online backup solutions.

Lasso Logic, for one, claims to have signed more than 40 partners, with another 40 pending, in the month since it launched its continuous data protection solution for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). CEO Steve Goodman said demand for the company's "zero-touch, tapeless and hassle-free backup solution" has been driven in part by the high-profile tape losses.

Others, like Bus-Tech, which offers tapeless backups and open technologies for mainframes, and Sepaton ("no tapes" spelled backwards), a virtual tape library (VTL) vendor, say the publicity has accelerated a trend that was already underway.

"Data losses attributed to lost or stolen tapes have been an issue for a while, although recently there is more publicity about the higher-profile incidents," said Sepaton marketing vice president Linda Mentzer.

Sepaton will soon add remote backup capabilities with a solution that can transfer data between VTLs across dark fiber or a wide area network (WAN). Almost all of the company's very large enterprise customers have expressed interest in the beta version of the new technology, Mentzer said.

"I think it's sharpened people's focus to look at us more closely," said Bus-Tech marketing director Jim O'Connor. "There's a lot of people looking to replace tape."

Vanderbilt University is one organization that's switched to virtual tape.

The university has eliminated almost all of its tape mounts over the last three years, switching to virtual tape with the help of Bus-Tech, said services manager Ron Eastes. The time savings have been so dramatic that the university eliminated two operator positions, he said. That said, Eastes runs a small shop that is only staffed five days a week, so round-the-clock operations might not see the same dramatic time savings or the cost savings of eliminating weekend backups.

Tape Hangs On

While more people may be looking at disk-based and remote backup solutions, not everyone wants to replace tape entirely. It still offers cost advantages, as well as the comfort of a physical data copy that can be put away for safekeeping.

Quantum conducted a survey of 500 SMBs in March that found that 8 percent of IT decision-makers were "very likely" to purchase or subscribe to an online backup solution, while half said they were "not at all likely" to do so, said Mark O'Malley, product marketing manager for Quantum Storage Devices.

A second survey of larger companies that use disk-to-disk backup found that 80% still use tape for archival purposes.

“I don't see a tidal wave shift away from tape.”

— Mark O'Malley, Quantum

"I don't see a tidal wave shift away from tape," O'Malley said.

That said, Quantum has covered its bases with its DX-series disk-based backup systems. The company also offers tape data encryption through partners Decru and NeoScale, but admits that the price tag on encryption appliances puts the technology out of reach of most small businesses.

Large enterprises are adding disk-to-disk remote mirroring for added data protection and recovery capabilities, O'Malley said, but he noted that "not many companies can afford to do real remote mirroring."

Even those that can are still using tape, he says. "A lot of these people are not abandoning tape — they're just using it in a different way," he said. "People still want an off-site copy."

For smaller and mid-sized enterprises, where cost is an issue, tape is still cheaper than both SATA drives and even MAID (multiple array of idle disks) technology from the likes of Copan Systems, O'Malley said.

IP-based remote backup has some promise, but there are still cost and latency issues, which companies like Network Executive Software (NetEx) and WAN optimizers are working to address.

Data Must Be Handled Better

Whatever the solution, it's clear that storage providers and end users need to do better. Analyst Peter Gerr of Enterprise Strategy Group co-authored a study in March that found that 18 percent of end users had replaced some of their tape backups with disk, and another 58 percent were considering doing. But Gerr sees the issue as more than disk versus tape. The bottom line, he says, is that organizations need to treat their data with greater care.

"As much as I'd like to blame tape for the data loss, theft, or mishandling, it's just a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that companies still don't treat their data like the valuable and volatile asset that it is," said Gerr, noting that an ESG survey found that just 7 percent of respondents "always" encrypt their backup data, while 60 percent "never do."

"These stories are a perfect example of how improper protection and preservation of data, regardless of the storage medium itself, can create a very real threat to the business and to shareholder and customer confidence," Gerr continued. "The fact is that some users are replacing their tape infrastructures with disk-based solutions, while others are augmenting their tape with disk-based solutions ... but those same users still value the low cost, portability and long-term reliability of tape.

"IT and business professionals have to adopt a position of 'information governance' and realize that their companies, or themselves directly, will be held more accountable for the protection and preservation of data. We're seeing just the tip of this information security/privacy iceberg."

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