Five Myths on Tape Storage

Technological change is part of life, and that is true whether you are chillaxing in your living room or doing your daily battles in the data center at the office. Machines and devices come and go, capabilities change usuall for the better, and technology seems to get smaller and faster.

With this concept in mind, using tape storage for your business data seems like you are in Jurassic Park. After all, all forms of tape products that used to surround us, like video and cassette tapes have already disappeared and were replaced byoptical disks, flash and USB devices that have storage capacities that employ ease of use and better reliability.

But, our living rooms and the data center are two different places. No doubt that vendors now push for disk storages that are bigger and faster, but of course, they are selling technology. The reality is tape storage is STILL A KEY COMPONENT IN AN ENTERPRISE DATA CENTER. I’ve seen tapes that are still in use in todays large enterprise data centers. It continues to be a key component in backup strategies and no doubt that tape still runs in the biggest data centers today. This still holds true today, and I think this will still hold true in the future.

But there are myths that still surround the use of tapes. No doubt that my early IT years were spent in managing these tapes so I can have some authority on this matter. If you are to look closely on how these technologies work, these myths do not hold true.

MYTH #1: TAPE IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN DISK

On the cost of acquisition, tape costs less per gigabyte of data than disks. And if a company decides or is already starting to use one, expandability is lesser in cost if you use tapes than disks. Per my last acquisition, one 100 GB of tape costs around 800 pesos. Try lookin at disks with the same capacity on how much it costs per gigabyte.

Tape also costs less to operate, in terms of energy used than disks. Since disks run on multi processors with several high capacity power supply systems, tape drives take only a fraction of the amount of energy used.

Tape libraries are also highly scalable and of lesser cost. Compare the cost of having to run a tape jukebox than to run an extensive RAID library. 

MYTH #2: TAPE IS CHEAPER TO BUY BUT MORE EXPENSIVE TO OPERATE

I will not be detailing as much on this, but everything boils down to the TCO (total cost of ownership), which includes, purchase price, operating price, manhour price to operate, maintenance costs and other things.

MYTH #3: TAPE IS GONE… NO ONE IS USING IT ANYMORE.

Data center managers are a conservative lot, and they do not want to be the last one standing with a technology the rest of the world has left in the dust. That is not a worry with tape storage, because most of the biggest enterprises in the Philippines (and even globally), use some form of a tiered storage strategy with tape as the foundation layer where most of their data resides.

Banks have lot of regulations they need to follow regarding data storage, availability and security. And surprisingly, most top banks in the Philippines and all 10 of the world’s largest banks rely on…..get this…..tape storage products specifically from IBM and Oracle. The same can be said for the biggest three telecommunication companies here in the Philippines and most of the largest pharma firms here in the Philippines.

MYTH #4: TAPE IS UNRELIABLE

That holds true for our cassette and VHS tapes where everything can be swallowed and destroyed by having a dirty tape path.But in terms of its use in data centers, tape is more reliable than disk storage. We have experienced several NAS disks going down, leaving the users clueless on what happened, leaving no trace of data. I have not heard any tape drive or tape backup failing as of this time. But let us assume that you want to move everything to disks and drop your tape storage completely. You need a large RAID configuration, and you are going to have to pay for a RAID controller. DISKS ARE KNOWN TO FAIL and so are these controllers. In fact, 85% of our data recovery clients are of failures in disks and its controllers.

MYTH #5: TAPE IS A BIGGER SECURITY ISSUE THAN DISKS

Yes, tapes are movable and portable. But there is such as thing as “tape encryption”, which works similar to “disk encryption”. Tape encryption is transparent and works at the tape drive level itself and runs at full speed without quality degradation. An encrypted tape would be useless to someone who stole it. Much more, a stolen tape is useless to someone without a tape drive….. Compare that to disks where it can be configured to run anywhere…

Conclusion:

Disk storage is important, no doubt about it, but beware of vendors selling exclusively disk based solutions. There is a lot of misinformation out there that paints tape technology as inferior to disk and as a last generation solution on the verge of extinction.

Tape and disk storage systems can be and should co-exist in a tiered storage strategy that uses the less expensive tape tier for tasks like long term backup and archiving. If you are looking to add storage capacity in your enterprise data center, make sure you know that facts and understand vendors who lack a complete portfolio and sell only disk.

Just because tape storage technologies disappeared from your living room does not mean they should do the same in your data center.

So let us visit the museum and try to see if there are tapes and tape drives that are displayed.. Chances are, we won’t find any… Not during the next few years.

 

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One response to “Five Myths on Tape Storage

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