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Technology lifecycle and archiving

How about examining the track record of equipment manufacturers as to longevity of the data tape format as a function of their willingness to maintain support for the playback decks? Backup is one thing, but when these decks are pressed into the role of archiving data (as they always are), the results can be less than agreeable. With some data archives approaching petabyte capacity, migration becomes impossible when a vendor drops support for a tape format and machinery before the initial migration from prior media is even accomplished! Will there ever be a minimum acceptable "time-to-live" standard for data tape formats?

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In this day and age of regulatory compliance, technology lifecycle is unfortunately one of the questions many organizations fail to raise. With the growing need for long-term, low-cost, mass-storage devices, many decisions are based solely on cost. This can lead to unpleasant surprises. While many major vendors are making efforts to ensure their upgraded tape devices are backward compatible with the media used in previous iterations of the technology, physical limitations are dictated by the form-factor of the media itself. When a tape volume can no longer be inserted in a tape device due to its size or shape, this is where compatibility ends. Even though vendors might be filled with good intentions, they too have to face business realities that can force them to move away from a certain technology due to competitive market pressure or failure to gain market shares with a particular offering.

Getting vendors to agree to a standard in terms of minimum technology lifecycle would certainly prove to be a challenge. As a particular technology got closer to the end of that minimum life-span, customers would be naturally drawn to newer technology when making a purchase decision. After all, who buys a loaf of bread posting an expiration date that is tomorrow! Then remains the question of backward compatibility of the business application that wrote the data and the operating system on which that application was running; the list goes on.

We have to change the way we use archives which for many, have become a way to avoid having to make informed data retention decisions. When companies are uncertain about how long they should retain data, they simply archive it. The questions now become: Did we really need a petabyte of data archived to tape in the first place? Or, is archive data in its native format the right idea?

This was first published in July 2005

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