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Tape is in it for the long haul

Recent Taneja Group research indicates tape technology is thriving, and that users are finding innovative and cost-effective ways of implementing tape systems.

Recent Taneja Group research indicates tape technology is thriving, and that users are finding innovative and cost-effective ways of implementing tape systems.

It's become fashionable, and almost predictable, for pundits to declare that tape has gone the way of the dinosaurs, yielding to disk for all but the most stubborn legacy applications. But the pundits couldn’t be more wrong. Based on our recent research, tape is thriving as a storage medium in a wide range of enterprise environments.

While tape storage recently passed its 60th birthday, it has a rich history of protecting and retaining the data and applications users rely on to run their businesses. But the tape storage users we recently spoke with see a long future ahead for tape as a strategic technology in their data centers.


No slowdown for tape tech

Ongoing advances in tape technology have helped to enable new and expanding use cases for tape in a range of small to large enterprises. Density improvements with each new Linear Tape-Open (LTO) generation continue to make tape the most cost-effective storage medium on a dollars-per-gigabyte basis for a variety of applications. But beyond raw capacity cost, leading tape vendors such as IBM, Quantum and Spectra Logic are innovating on a number of other fronts, such as increasing tape reliability and durability, improving media lifecycle management and enabling more rapid data access. Suppliers are also enhancing power consumption and cooling technologies, making tape libraries more economical to operate than ever before.

Tape is proving its value in emerging applications such as cloud storage, “big data” and streaming media, and is being increasingly adopted for new use cases such as active archiving. Based on our research, we’re also seeing tape use spanning a variety of industries, including media and entertainment, aerospace, government, education and financial services.

So what’s driving organizations’ adoption of tape, and why is it a key technology in their long-term storage plans? Let’s see what some users have to say in response to these questions.

Use case: Active archiving

An aerospace engineering firm uses multiple tape libraries for active archiving, as well as backup and recovery. Its IT staff reports that their tape libraries offer distinct advantages over disk, including cost, density, reliability and availability. The firm also chose tape because of ongoing industry investments to advance tape technology.

IT deployed two tape libraries in the corporate data center. One of the libraries is primarily devoted to storing corporate backup. The other provides active archiving for the company’s high-performance computing (HPC) environment, which offloads data sets to tape from high-speed spinning disk.

The primary concern of IT is to shrink operating costs and reduce liability in a heavily regulated industry. The purchase price for two tape libraries wasn’t cheap, but tape media and the ability to scale and upgrade drives offered sizable economies of scale. Tape reliability and longevity answered concerns about long-term data retention.

There was some pushback from other areas of the company that preferred to adopt more disk instead of making new investments in tape. Once the other divisions understood tape’s advanced capabilities, the objections vanished.


Use case: Multisite backup and recovery

This IT services company architects and supports customer call centers. Tape libraries have significantly improved the company-wide backup process, bringing speed, capacity and density advantages with minimal power usage.

The call centers back up remotely to one of nine regional data centers. Backup data from the regional centers is copied to one of two corporate data centers. Active data with fast restore requirements is stored on disk in the data centers. Aging data is stored in a large tape library located in one of the corporate data centers.

When the services company planned to replace its legacy libraries with an updated product, speed of implementation was essential. One of the company’s major market differentiators is the speed at which it can bring new call centers online, so the IT team couldn’t afford downtime or poor scalability with its tape storage. They also needed a backup infrastructure that provided performance, capacity and density to support growing customer backup volumes.

Their choice of tape library offered these capabilities in a small footprint with economical power usage. Robust scalability ensures uptime and fast restores allow more direct data backup for a simplified backup and recovery process. The ability to upgrade drives was also important thanks to continued LTO tape technology development.

Use case: Business continuity

Company no. 3 owns acute care hospitals throughout the U.S. Corporate IT provides the hospitals with computing support and business continuity services. The company maintains two data center locations, each with its own tape library. One is located in the corporate data center and one in a secondary disaster recovery (DR) site.

The corporate site backs up and archives corporate data, while the DR site library retains backup and archive data from the remote sites. Most of the hospitals back up to local virtual tape libraries with deduplication that replicates over the wide-area network (WAN) to the DR site library. IT then archives the replicated data onto other tape drives in the same library. In cases where the data to be backed up can’t be deduped, and/or doesn’t need local disk-based restores, servers may back up directly over the WAN to the tape library.

The company frequently upgrades its storage environment and needed a tape library with a highly scalable infrastructure. At the same time, it needed to control space and costs in its data centers. The tape library is highly scalable thanks to upgradeable drives and frame components. It’s also more economical than disk for environmental factors like density in a small footprint, efficient rackspace, and lower power and cooling costs. These factors resulted in large operational savings over the life of the library.

Tape is here to stay

Given these end users’ stories and the advantages tape provides, it’s clear that tape has confounded the naysayers once again, and will have a long and fruitful life as a platform for protecting and retaining users’ most valuable information assets.

BIO: Jeff Byrne is a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group.

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