Today, humanity generates more data than ever before. In 2020, 1.7 Mb of information was created per second for one inhabitant of the planet. Facebook alone generates 4 petabytes every day. Google performs more than 40,000 search queries per second, and around the world, people send almost 3 million emails to each other every second.
In total, users produced 59 zettabytes of data in 2020 or almost 670 trillion feature films. And by 2025, this figure will triple and amount to 163 zettabytes. This is 10 times more than the total data as of 2016. The forecast is published in the report of the analytical firm IDC Data Age 2025.
According to the Data Attack Surface Report, 80% of all new data will be generated not by us, living users, but by smart gadgets. All this is happening due to the proliferation of smartphones with a bunch of sensors and cameras, as well as high-speed Internet.
A reasonable question arises: where to store all this? Is there enough space?
Virtual tape libraries as an alternative to the cloud
Virtual Tape Library (VTL) technology, which many storage professionals consider obsolete, is suddenly making a comeback.
While hardly anyone expects tape backup to become the predominant approach it once was, modern tape systems now provide a native storage capacity of 12 TB with LTO-8 and even more with the upcoming LTO-9—better than most hard drives, and often faster than the cloud.
According to Cindy LaChapelle, principal consultant at research and consulting firm ISG, with each new generation of LTO tape technology, the capacity of a single tape—native or compressed—and the native bit rate nearly double.
Safe and economical
Mark Hill, program director of tape product development at IBM, says the new tape drives provide a secure and cost-effective storage infrastructure for a backup or archive platform. With malware issues on the rise, he believes the tape is a great air gap solution, which means you can easily unplug a tape cartridge and just store it on a shelf, creating a physical barrier or ‘air gap’ between hackers and your data.
Another expert, Diana Salazar, product marketing manager at Quantum, observed that when you use tape backup and physically remove it from the network, you break the connection and protect it from cyberattacks such as ransomware. Encryption is a key function of LTO technology. This could be useful for companies facing issues related to Article 32 of the GDPR manual, she said.
Tapes can be configured as WORM (Write Once, Read Many) with minimal additional tape overhead to ensure that, once written, data cannot be altered or over-written.
Girish Daj, director of product management at Sungard Availability Services, says using a high-capacity tape drive is an excellent strategy if your data protection plan requires data retention for compliance and auditing. He believes that with recent virus and malware threats, tapes have also become the cheapest way to protect data on WORM-enabled media and store it offsite.
Tape technology can also help organisations control data centre costs, such as power and cooling. If, for example, after 30 days, the data no longer needs to be retrieved, then it makes sense to store it on tape to reduce this time cost.
Long-term advantages of virtual tape libraries
Technically sophisticated hard drives can lose data or fail completely after years of unattended storage on a shelf. Tape cartridges, meanwhile, are designed for long-term storage. Tape backup is also highly flexible.
If bulk recovery is required due to disaster recovery or any other reason, additional tape drives can be added to read more tape cartridges in parallel.
Tape technology rarely fails, and most tape problems are due to human error. The latest tape technologies have a higher bit error rate than disks, indicating that they can transfer more data than a disk before experiencing a permanent error.
Tape storage in the age of Covid-19
During a pandemic, tape backup automation is essential to ensure fast backup and recovery of data.
Tape-based solutions have the potential to require manual intervention—tape packing, shipping, and manual re-entry into automated libraries.
Girish Daj, director of product management at Sungard Availability Services, noticed that due to recent virus and malware threats, tapes have become the cheapest way to protect data on WORM-enabled media and store it offsite.
If data is stored on tape in an institution like Iron Mountain that stores media in secure vaults, this could be a potential downside to using tape as the primary backup and recovery platform during a pandemic. Without tape backup automation, when an organisation needs to recover data due to a major event or disaster, it will have to request tapes from offsite storage.
This may require packaging and shipping the tapes to a secondary location. The IT team must then reintroduce the tapes into the automated tape library for reading and recovery. Conversely, if the tapes are already in an automated library located at an alternative off-site emergency location, then manual intervention is not required as no actual physical handling or packaging of the tapes is required, eliminating a potential disadvantage of the tape-based solution.
Other factors to consider
While tape is a great choice for offsite backup and storage, many organisations are limiting their rates by complementing this approach with another storage technology. To achieve an optimal backup scheme, a combination of tape and hard/spinning drives should be used.
On the other hand, keeping up with tape innovation can be a headache. As tape technology advances, format compatibility sometimes fades into the background. As a result, simply reading data from old tapes can become a problem, forcing organisations to retrieve and overwrite data just to keep their current hardware up to date.
Adrian Moir, the senior product management consultant at Quest Software, thinks that LTO-8 cannot read LTO-6 tapes due to media incompatibilities because LTO-8 does not support the use of tapes with magnetic particles – only barium ferrite media.
However, more and more IT professionals are finding the hard way that the cloud isn’t as cost-effective a backup technology as they once thought.
Despite the attractive monthly cost per gigabyte, the cost of retrieving data from the cloud must be considered. Unfortunately, search costs are usually not included in the cost model, and for many, this comes as an unpleasant surprise.
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