Most technologies eventually outlive their own usefulness, but a rare few withstand the passage of time. While floppy discs vanish beyond the horizon, taking with them forgotten formats like Zip drives and Jaz drives, the older storage format of magnetic data tapes presses onward, one decade at a time, entering the 21st century as the archival medium of choice for many enterprises.
With a high reliability (tape manufacturers claim their products can last 30 years under optimal conditions) and a low dollar-per-gig ratio, many companies see value in using magnetic tapes for data that does not necessitate rapid retrieval.
Let’s take a closer look at some real-world applications of this storage technology:
See more: The Tape Storage Market
5 tape storage hardware case studies
1. Banco Bradesco
Banco Bradesco, the third largest bank in Latin America, handles more than 1.5 billion transactions every month. The bank sought to meet the demands of the Digital Age by expanding its online services, upgrading its core banking system, and enhancing data security. It turned to IBM, whose expertise in business IT infrastructure was put to work in a complete revamp of the bank’s hardware and software. The company installed 12 two-way grids of IBM’s virtual tape libraries (VTLs).
VTLs have been around for several decades and represent one evolution of the dated format. They were created to expedite the process of writing data to tapes by first offloading data to an intermediary disk-based cache, quickly freeing the production system of information destined for archive. In many modern contexts, tapes are entirely virtualized, and the physical storage is a disk. The result is a software-defined solution that provides many of the advantages of tapes, but granting the read/write speed of a disk. Bradesco VTLs each carried a 240 TB cache and were connected to traditional tape libraries, thereby retaining all benefits of the storage medium such as air-gapping data and protecting it from power surges.
These systems, partnered with flash storage arrays to create a total data storage mainframe that handles over 14 PB of customer financial data. The resulting “…resiliency of these IBM enterprise solutions supports the whole banking ecosystem — from traditional to digital banking,” Banco Bradesco’s executive general manager says.
The tape storage solution employed by Bradesco is also used by 85% of the top 20 banks across the world, according to IBM.
- Banking, finance
Tape storage products:
- IBM TS7700 Virtual Tape Libraries (VTLs) with a 240TB cache
- IBM TS3500 Physical Tape Libraries
- More resilient data backups with improved storage and retrieval
- A revamped online banking system with improved convenience for customers
2. Treasury of Puerto Rico
Hurricanes pose routine threats to the island commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In 2017, two back-to-back storms, Irma and Maria, battered infrastructure and severely disrupted even the most critical of government operations. Outages at the Puerto Rico Department of the Treasury threatened to affect taxation and even the release of merchandise from the island’s network of ports. In recognition of the vulnerability of their systems, the Treasury reached out to IBM and its business partners to build a more resilient operation.
The solution involved redundant servers across two different sites, with data replicated asynchronously, giving a fallback in case one system goes down. Supporting this is a cloud-enabled VTL that can be connected to physical tape backup. The virtualization of tapes grants the Treasury streaming access to data, with the option to readily port it into the vault.
“We will bring other government services onto our infrastructure in the future, so they can also be protected by our cyber resiliency strategy,” the Treasury’s CIO says. “This will allow us to reduce risk and simplify compliance with IRS directives for encryption.
“As a result, we will be able to focus more on delivering vital services to our citizens and collecting the necessary revenue to fund the government’s operations.”
Tape storage product:
- IBM TS7760 Cloud-enabled VTL
- Data redundancy that preserves information even during hurricane conditions
- New encryption systems to protect data from harm and maintain regulatory compliance
See more: 5 Trends in Tape Storage
3. Computational Medicine Center
The Computational Medicine Center, a research organization formed between Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University, sought to build a high-performance computing ecosystem with substantial data storage needs.
“For more than 25 years, I have been developing and using computational approaches to analyze very large biological datasets, study genomic architecture, and understand the genetics of disease,” the center’s director said. “Working with IBM, we built a networked, parallel file system that would allow us to store large amounts of data, access it quickly, and back it up reliably.”
The resilience of that system, backed by tape storage, was tested during an accident that threatened the continuity of years’ worth of data. By retrieving archived data that had been backed up and air-gapped onto physical tapes, the center was quickly made whole and once again able to focus on its cancer and disease research.
“Built-in automation, high availability features and seamless integration between the different components made that possible,” the director said.
- Health care
Tape storage product:
- IBM TS3310 Physical Tape Library
- Tape storage enabled recovery from catastrophic data loss
4. Calgary Police Department
When the Calgary police department unrolled its pilot program for bodycams, those first 50 cameras produced more than 18 gigabytes per shift. In its final phase, the program would deploy more than 1,500 cameras, threatening to create a combined petabyte of data each day. IT for the city police faced a quickly growing problem, one that required a low-cost solution for data that is mostly archival in nature.
“…Most [surveillance data] will never be looked at again, so it does not make any sense at all to keep it on live disk,” an IT manager for the Calgary police says, adding that a tape storage solution “lets us use our existing resource, our library, to store all that data at a cost that was far, far lower than any disk-only solution we saw.”
Using a VTL system from Quantum with a 240 TB disk, the police department is now able to rapidly offload a full contingent of daily bodycam footage into a buffer, while two copies of the files are recorded onto tapes, one of which is maintained onsite, while the other is moved to an offsite archive. The data is also encrypted, for added security. The resulting system “gives us protection and long-term retention, something that was a real headache with disk-only systems,” the IT manager says.
- Law enforcement
Tape storage products:
- StorNext Scalable File System
- Scalar LTO Tape Libraries
- Improved encryption of sensitive information
- Virtual tape library systems enabled rapid offloading of daily data dumps
5. Franklin Pierce University
Franklin Pierce University’s legacy backup system was facing ballooning data, coupled with aging infrastructure and limited resources. The day he joined the university’s IT department, its senior systems administrator recognized the need to fully replace the extant backup system with a more robust, economical, and efficient infrastructure.
“We were babysitting the backup on a nightly basis,” he says. “Spending six to eight hours a week swapping tapes and responding to failures is a resource killer for a small IT team.”
The entire system was revamped using a server-to-disk-to-tape approach, provided by Quantum. As a result, backups are regularly and quickly made to a disk, buffering a weekly backup committed to tape.
“We used to spend an entire day of work each week just tending to the backup, and this new solution has reduced that time to almost nothing,” the sysadmin says. “In fact, it proactively tells me that everything is happy, so now my team can rest easy and concentrate on new projects.
“That’s more than two months per year of IT time we’ve recaptured.”
The new system highlights improvements that have been made in tape backup systems by creating rapid data transfer intermediaries that require less, as the sysadmin says, “babysitting.” Through advancements in storage capacity, read/write speeds, and the introduction of other efficiencies, magnetic tapes continue to advance their role as the archival medium of choice for enterprise.
- Higher education
Tape storage products:
- Quantum Scalar Tape Library
- Data is more quickly archived, freeing up IT for other tasks
- Time saved is estimated to be two months per year worth of labor
See more: Best Data Storage Solutions and Software