My first job out of college required me to load and unload dozens of magnetic tape reels every day. Most of the time it was a simple procedure, but every so often the tape would come off the track, or get jammed or break, and then I would end up with a big mess of tape.
I was so excited when we switched the reel tapes out for cartridge tapes. They were smaller, easier to load and didn’t jam as often. But they were (and often still are) a pain in the neck to deal with. They all had to be labeled, entered into a spreadsheet and stored for recovery operations. Then, some of them had to be boxed and tracked as they made the journey from the data center to offsite storage and back again 3 months later.
Why Are We Still Using Tape?
Magnetic tape was the best we could do back in the ‘Stone Ages’ of the 1990s. Yet here we are now, more than 20 years later, and most IT organizations are still using tape?
Sure, tape systems are faster today and have more capacity. But the bottom line is that you still have to deal with all those tapes. It’s a nightmare when you needed to retrieve data. You think molasses in wintertime is slow? Try retrieving data from a tape backup with an executive standing over your shoulder asking “Is it back online yet?”
We all expect an instantaneous experience with data.
Data is the new lifeblood of organizations and is at the heart of our world. We all expect an instantaneous experience with data. We demand immediate search results, we assume all data to be retained and accessible forever, and we expect any downtime to be resolved without data loss, and within a short amount of time. So, why do we continue to settle for slow restore speed and the other inadequacies of tape?
Why are we settling for mediocrity?
Data center infrastructure is transforming now faster than it ever has before. Hyperscale cloud companies have shown the world a better way to build Big Data infrastructure using distributed, scale-out architectures and these technologies are finding their place into the enterprise. Hyperconverged solutions are showing us the value of converging multiple functions on scale-out platforms. Infrastructure is increasingly being built using software-defined solutions running on commodity servers to achieve more flexibility at lower costs, and Fast Data solutions are bringing real-time data-driven decisions to our cars, homes and health.
Yet amid all these incredible changes, why are IT organizations still relying on antiquated single-purpose technology to provide protection for the organization’s most valuable resources?
Disaster Recovery in the cloud era – not what you thought
Disaster Recovery is seeing a revolution, but what may seem surprising is that this revolution is not necessarily happening in the public cloud as you may assume. Many IT organizations that have experimented with using public cloud for long term retention of large amounts of data quickly ran into some of its limitations, such as painfully slow performance and equally painful fees for retrieving that data.
For enterprise-class IT organizations, the revolution in Disaster Recovery is happening in their data centers by using object storage. This is the same technology that enables all major public clouds; it allows businesses to leverage the scale, cost efficiency and performance levels of object storage, yet in a private cloud configuration.
Object storage on premises delivers both long-term data retention and improved Disaster Recovery workflow. When you compare it with tape, it has three key advantages:
Being mechanical devices with lots of complex moving parts, both spinning drives and tape drives can, and often do, fail. Tape drives are also susceptible to bits of dust and grit and the wear and tear caused by typical usage, all of which can lead to data loss. So how do you protect the data that resides on these devices?
Object storage is concerned with data redundancy, not hardware redundancy
Unlike traditional approaches using hardware redundancy, object storage is concerned with data redundancy so that data is never lost or compromised. It leverages advanced technologies, such as erasure coding (a data protection scheme that breaks data into encoded shards), continual background verification and geographically dispersing data in order to deliver up to 17 nines data durability.
Add to reliability issues, the possibility that tapes can be lost or stolen during transportation to or storage at off-site locations, and you should be very concerned about the security of your organization’s data.
Cloud solutions eliminate the security risks of manual tape handling and help avoid high-profile legal cases linked to losses of backup tapes containing personal data. Using a private cloud solution can also help alleviate concerns of security and privacy of your data in the public cloud.
The latest LTO-8 tape drives tout a native streaming performance of 360 MB/sec (750MB/sec compressed), key word being “streaming”. To achieve this level of performance, data must be continuously streamed to keep the tape drive happy. Any disruption to the stream anywhere along the data path will cause the tape drive to stop, reverse and start again. This is called “shoe shining” and it is why restoring data is painfully slow from tape; there is usually not enough data to keep the drive streaming during restore operations.
Restoring data is painfully slow from tape due to “shoe shining”
Depending on your plan, the public cloud can also have long retrieval times as well as come with very high egress fees when retrieving data. Many companies have found that storing data on-premises using a private cloud can be a more cost efficient solution.
Private cloud delivers data at the speed of disk with a consistent and predictable level of performance regardless of the amount of data being restored. A private cloud also enables you to have all of your historic data accessible for discovery, analytics, insights, recovery, etc. while keeping costs predictable and at bay.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what about the cost?
The one redeeming feature of tape has always been that tape is inexpensive from a CapEx perspective, costing about $0.02 cents per gigabyte. This has enabled organizations to overlook all the issues, hassles and troubles associated with magnetic tape and to justify its existence.
However, many organizations fail to understand the true TCO of tape because they neglect or underestimate the OpEx associated with handling, transporting and storing hundreds or even thousands of physical tapes. In addition, there are the costs related to storage and retrieval fees, maintenance, and hidden costs associated with slower restore times and longer downtime.
The bottom line is that things have changed, and tape is no longer the least expensive solution.
The power of cloud at the cost of tape
I know it may be hard to believe, but a modern private cloud object storage solution can be less expensive than tape. How? By harnessing advanced technologies, such as deduplication and helium-sealed disk drives to deliver some of the densest storage systems on the planet.
Modern private cloud object storage solution can be less expensive than tape
These two core complementary technologies combine to provide unprecedented capacity leadership and online watt/TB power efficiency for extremely low TCO that IT organizations can now leverage to affordably make the transition to cloud and finally get rid of tape forever!
So, can we finally stop using tape?
Yes! The revolution is on and now is the time to move to private cloud using object storage. Over the next few months, I will publish a series of blogs that will address many of the issues and explore the steps required on your journey to finally stop using magnetic tape for long-term data retention and successfully adopt a cloud strategy for Disaster Recovery.
You will end up with a more powerful, cost effective and highly reliable solution for long-term data retention and a robust platform that can respond to new capacity or hardware challenges in a flexible manner and facilitate data forever. In the end, the only tape you will need is some packing tape to box up all those old tapes before sending them to the dump.
Learn about our Tape Replacement TCO Analysis here.
Victor, AKA “The Data Storage Dude”, has expertise including enterprise backup apps, dedup and traditional/cloud storage infrastructure.