Economic Realities of Archive Storage


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Many people have the perception that archive storage should be really, really cheap. After all, you don't need much performance, so it shouldn't cost much, should it?

However, these people tend to ignore important aspects of archival storage that can greatly impact the cost of the solutions.

In just about any storage pyramid diagram, archive storage is at the bottom of the pyramid. Archive storage is all about massive capacities and very little performance. It's a place you put your data when you are done with it for the immediate future but still may need access to it.

Archive storage is simple in concept, but, as always, the devil is in the details. And don't forget that Murphy lives there too.

Archive Fundamentals

When thinking about an archive solution, you need to start with some fundamental questions, such as:

  • What kind of performance do I want (pushing data into the archive and pulling data out of the archive)?
  • How much data will need to be archived?
  • What kind of reliability do I want (or how much risk can I tolerate)? In other words, how important is the data?

Answering these questions can tell you a great deal about the design of the archive solution. But many people fail to consider that the answers to these questions have an economic impact on archive storage.

For example, if I want an extremely low risk of losing data, how much will that cost me? How much can I lower my costs if I can accept more data loss risk? How much does data recall performance affect my costs? If I don't need the data right away, can the reduced performance reduce my costs?

These are all trade-offs that we make in designing archive solutions. It's only natural that people want to be fully informed about the impact of their decisions. But do they really understand the economic realities of their decisions?

You Get What You Pay For

My wife started me watching a television show called "Love It or List It" where families redo their current home while also looking for possible new homes. At the end of the show, they get to decide which direction way they want to go—stay with their current, remodeled home, or sell it and buy a new one.

What is really interesting to me is that the process makes the families develop a list of their home priorities. For example, if they move slightly out of town, can they get a bigger home? Or if they drop the silly idea of blowing out a kitchen wall because it will require major structural modifications, can they maybe get some other things on their wish list for their current home?

The point of my cathartic admission that I watch HGTV is that these people are forced or coerced into really thinking about their priorities. That allows them to make trade-offs in a sane manner (but they still get blinded-sided because making sane, logical decisions does not make good television). What startles them is the economic realities of their decisions and priorities. Some of them actually thought they could get everything on their wish list: top-of-the-line quality for about the price of an evening out.

Lately, I seem to be encountering situations where people want amazingly inexpensive archive storage that is so cheap it is absurd. But at the same time, they are unwilling to accept that this might increase the risk of data loss. They insist that it is possible to have very inexpensive archive solutions in their data center with virtually no risk of data loss.

Many people assume that archive storage is cheap, easy to build, and their data will always be there and will never become corrupt. They have forgotten that just like everything else, there are trade-offs in archive storage.

In general, if you want lots of data, and the ability to recall it quickly, while having the lowest possible risk of data loss, then you will have to pay for it (i.e. it is expensive).

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