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Why Tape Storage Still Has a Crucial Role in Hybrid IT



Hybrid IT is no longer a future trend, it's more or less the reality of how we now think about the evolution of IT.  But although the concept of Hybrid IT is well established, there’s still a debate to be had about the ideal combination of storage technology—including tape—to ensure availability, reduce risk and increase resilience in your enterprise. 

Hybrid IT_Tape Storage_blog.jpgWhen I opened up this morning, the home page was structured around the challenges of successful Hybrid IT deployment with HPE's products all arranged accordingly.

But although the concept of Hybrid IT is well established, I feel there’s still a debate to be had about the ideal combination of storage technology to ensure availability, reduce risk and increase the resilience in your enterprise. 

Here's my disclaimer: I work in HPE tape storage marketing. So naturally, I would need to have my head firmly in the sand not to realize that many people think Hybrid IT, with its heavy adoption of cloud, spells the end of tape. Critics say tape is too slow, too burdensome, too unreliable and (even) too unglamorous—to survive in the bright, new and shiny world of Hybrid IT.  

To which I say: that’s simply not true.

Firstly, many of the arguments used by commentators (or those with vested interests in seeing the $1.5 billion tape industry disappear) are the same ones that have been deployed in the past. 

Criticizing tape for being too slow is like criticizing a helicopter for not being able to fly at the speed of sound. Tape cannot match the random access capability of a disk drive, but modern tape drives stream data more quickly, making them ideal for archiving larger unstructured files. 

Helicopters excel when used for things they are good at. I have yet to hear of the pilot able to land a fighter jet on the roof of an office block.  And if that helicopter is transporting 100 LTO-7 tapes, the time it took to fly out of the clouds with half a petabyte of your data in a strongbox is much faster than anything you'll be able to download from the cloud.

Tape is still a superbly effective medium for the long-term archiving and data retention.

Independent studies show that the fully loaded cost of a tape storage solution is much cheaper than using primary or secondary storage

So once data has reached the end of its operational usefulness - and remember, 80% of all data is never accessed 90 days after creation - then it makes sense to migrate it to a secure, scalable and cost effective medium. There are myriad statistics about the growth of digital data, but one that caught my eye was from a Gartner report projecting 21 billion Internet of Things devices by 2020.  While some of that information will relate to consumers - smart phones, cars, home appliances and fitness trackers - a larger part will come from connected ‘things’ in the enterprise: light bulbs; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; and building management systems that are mainly deployed for purposes of cost-saving.

Would you really want a decade's worth of HVAC data sitting on your flash array? Probably not. But equally, if a future CFO were to ask for an analysis of your enterprise's energy efficiency over the last ten years, where would you look for the data?  By all means use replication to recover your data as it was moments ago. Use backups to recover a database from last month. But if you need a piece of content as it existed several years ago, tape still reigns supreme. Archive data may not be just for answering questions or creating business opportunities right now. The information may have a value in ways as yet unknown.

I do think that one of the distinctions that still gets obscured in the debate is the difference between backup and archive. A backup is a secondary copy of production data used for restore or DR in the case of data loss or data corruption. Multiple backups may exist. In contrast, an archive is a primary copy of less frequently accessed information that has been moved off primary storage to a lower cost tier for data management or regulatory compliance purposes.Table.png

Crucially, a backup dataset is ultimately overwritten whereas archived information is often a permanent record or data set stored without alteration or deletion for an extended period of time.  With a thirty-year shelf life, almost limitless scalability, built-in encryption and extreme portability, tape has considerable advantages over other solutions.

Some technologies may match tape in one or two areas, but almost nothing “out-tapes” tape across all of them. 

Some would argue that tape is too slow for restoring data, but if your RTO/RPO are aggressive (and why wouldn't they be given the threat to business continuity of unplanned downtime, with costs averaging $21.8 million for larger enterprises), even I would ask “why are you depending on tape for backup”?  Of course, you can recover most if not all of your IT infrastructure using tape if every thing else has failed (and once upon a time, it did so for Gmail), but today, HPE StoreOnce, Nimble and Cloud Bank solutions enable fast and comprehensive recovery of backup data to primary flash storage like HPE 3PAR StoreServ arrays. 

I am a tape partisan but I have no problem with the notion that other storage technologies are better at certain tasks than LTO. One of the things that I feel differentiates HPE is the fact that it has a very compelling line up of storage technologies covering the dimensions of availability, protection and retention.Optimized Data Protection for Hybrid IT.png

But the Gmail example is still relevant. Google relied upon its tape backup to restore inboxes after a software corruption spread through multiple connected systems. Not only could that still happen today, but CIOs must now contend with a host of external threats. If ransomware has corrupted your whole environment, including connected backup applications, offline tapes provide a vital airlock and as a last line of defense, tape is an excellent choice and perfectly suited for the RTO associated with that request.

Finally, and returning to my opening comments about Hybrid IT signaling the demise of LTO, many people think that cloud will ultimately replace tape for long term archiving and fill the space behind secondary storage that HPE StoreEver currently fills. Personally, I am not so sure. 

Cloud storage is ultimately just data on a computer you may not even own. Cloud services like S3 and Azure are great for storing backup snapshots to extend the capabilities of RPO, by enabling organizations to retain more copies of flat backup data. But backup still isn't archive. And while cloud-based object storage solutions may allow you to store large quantities of unstructured data at very low cost for long periods of time, you still have the same concerns with information stored in the cloud that exist with data hosted within your data centre. What about silent corruption? What about accidental deletion? What about malicious disruption? Data protection is all about mitigating risk. Few things mitigate risk better than a roomful of encrypted LTO tapes kept offsite in a converted nuclear bunker. 

And with Linear Tape File System, tape is a perfectly feasible repository for buckets of unstructured objects and their metadata. Why assume that tape and object storage protocols cannot work together if you play to the strengths of tape? HPE Data Management Framework (DMF) provides a large-scale, hierarchical storage, and data management platform specifically engineered to manage and protect the petabytes of structured and unstructured fixed content generated by highly scalable and extremely dynamic high-performance computing (HPC) and data analytics (HPDA) applications.HPC Client Nodes.png

The economics of tape are compelling when comparing the financials of using LTO with a typical cloud service provider (CSP). Putting the data into the cloud may be inexpensive, but what about getting it out again?  Based on a survey conducted by Solutions North Consulting, an average of 10-15% of archived, long term retention of secondary copy data is retrieved monthly by users or administrators. Yet the tiered pricing models typically used by CSPs mean that the costs of retrieving data from the cloud can soon dwarf the cost of the storage. A new tool published by the LTO Technology Provider companies (HPE, IBM and Quantum) allows users to truly compare the long term retention solutions available when using cloud or tape for archiving their data over a period of up to 12 years.

Welcome to a bright new era for tape technology.

So, as we move forward into the Hybrid IT world, it would be wrong to assume that tape is being left behind. With LTO-8 just around the corner and impressive R&D prototype demonstrations making the mainstream news headlines, this familiar storage technology is not just hanging in there, it's set to positively thrive. Hybrid IT may be the dawn of a bright new era for tape technology.

Andrew Dodd HPE Storage.jpeg

 Meet Around the Storage Block blogger Andrew Dodd, HPE Storage Media.





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