Top Tips for Implementing Data Storage Tape

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How things change. For years, even decades, people have been getting rid of tape. They bought into the idea that disk was the way to go and that tape was “old hat.”

But the realities of a Big Data world and the advances in tape technology, density, reliability and usability have brought the realization to many that they shouldn’t have been so hasty. And that’s showing up in the raw numbers. According to the Active Archive Alliance, nearly 250 million Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape cartridges have been shipped since the format’s inception. That’s more than 100,000 PB of data on LTO.

Tape, then, is returning to some organizations that dumped it a while back. Its role is steadily being expanded in others who remained faithful, and it now serves as the backbone data repository for many of the major cloud data providers.

Here are some tips on how, where and why to implement tape.

Look Beyond Backup

Most people think of tape as a medium for backup. While it can serve that function well, it has a far broader function these days. With so much data around, the pressure on backup windows needs to be eased by the establishment of an archive. 

“Stop thinking about tape just as a backup solution, and instead think differently about storage of unstructured file content,” said Eric Bassier, Senior Director, Product Management, Quantum. “With new tape innovations like Linear Tape File System (LTFS), storing files on tape is easier than ever, and can be as easy as drag and drop.” 

Add a Tape Archive Tier

Just as companies found it relatively easy to add a Tier 0 for flash, it is also fairly straightforward to add a lower tape tier as an archive for the bulk of data. Peter Faulhaber, president of Fujifilm Recording Media USA, notes that his company and IBM’s recently demonstrated areal data density of 85.9 Gb/in square. This equates to a 154 terabytes of uncompressed data on one tape cartridge.

“Tape has extraordinary data density, is fast, cost effective and energy efficient,” said Faulhaber.

By adding a tape archive, organizations can maintain their existing storage architecture as is and ease its burden by offloading data that is no longer heavily accessed onto a tape archive. By doing so, they can avoid the heavier price tags typically associated with adding yet another high end disk array.

Evaluate Tape Vendors Against Ease of Use

Some tape systems are relatively easy to implement while others can be a little complex – or at least foreign to those more used to flash and disk. So a smart approach is to include ease of use as a priority criterion when deciding which tape product to implement. Vendors such as Crossroads are coming out with tape technology that is said to be as simple as disk to install and operate, and makes it fast to retrieve from the archive.

“Data can be moved off primary storage and stored as a file on tape in the original file format,” said David Cerf, Executive Vice President for Strategy & Business Development, Crossroads. “It is online and accessible but secure and protected.”

Use Tape for Large Files

Bassier recommends tape as the best home for large files. Perhaps current video and high-res images should be stored on disk as they are being accessed and worked on daily. But as soon as they are completed, they need to be moved off high-end production systems.  

“For certain types of large file workflows, tape fits well as a low cost, low power tier of storage for archive,” said Bassier.

Tape for Really Big Data

There is big data and then there is Big Data. Disk may be fine for the former but only tape can cope with the latter. Faulhaber said we are talking now about tape libraries that can scale beyond one exabyte.

“You can store more than 300 Blu-ray quality movies on one LTO-6 2.5 TB cartridge,” he said. “In the future, an LTO-10 cartridge will hold over 14,400 Blu-ray movies.”

Tape for Heavy Lifting

Common logic would seem to dictate that disk rather than tape should be used to move data around within the enterprise. That may be the case for smaller quantities. But once you rise beyond a particular threshold, disk just can’t compete. In fact, Faulhaber said that tape has a faster device data rate than disk. So when you shifting multiple TBs or PBs of data from one host to another, you may be better served by using tape to do the heavy lifting.

Long Live Tape

There is an experiment I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I have an old PC in the garage – more a decade old. It hasn’t been turned on in 7 or 8 years. So I’m wondering just how much of the data on the hard drive would remain uncorrupted. Tape, on the other hand, has been found to last far longer in an uncorrupted state. Manufacturers promise tape media life of 30 years or more, compared to 3 to 5 years for a disk drive.  

Use Tape to Lower Storage Costs

A couple of recent studies highlight the fact that tape is cheaper than disk. Brad Johns Consulting Group found that LTFS-based ‘Tape as NAS’ cost $1.1 million over a 10-year period compared with $7.0 million for a 4 TB disk-based unified storage. Similarly, a report by Enterprise Strategies Group (ESG) contrasted an LTO-5 tape library with a SATA disk system for backup (with the SATA system also having de-duplication. The disk system came out 2 to 4 times more expensive over give years.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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