In recent years, tape has earned a reputation for being an outdated technology. This is not surprising given that...
newer technologies easily overcome some of the most problematic limitations associated with magnetic tape storage.
But is tape truly dead? Hardly.
Organizations are generating data at an unprecedented rate, and exponential data growth has become the norm. One of the main problems with the "big data way of doing things" is that unbridled data growth strains storage resources. For companies that store the bulk of their data on premises, it can be tough to keep up with capacity demands. For organizations that store most of their data in the public cloud, data growth results in ever-increasing storage costs.
Backup systems are not immune to these growing pains. Modern disk-based backup systems are plagued by capacity limitations and spiraling costs associated with backup storage consumption. Data reduction methods, such as compression and deduplication, can help to reduce the rate at which storage is consumed, but the effectiveness of these technologies varies widely based on the data that is being stored. Some data simply cannot be deduplicated or compressed.
The bottom line is that organizations must have a plan in place to cope with rampant storage growth.
What sets magnetic tape apart
As most IT pros know, magnetic tape storage was the definitive backup media for decades. No technology remains dominant for that long unless it provides compelling advantages.
There have been plenty of backup mediums to compete with tape over the years. Magnetic tape storage maintained its dominance for the better part of half a century because tapes are comparatively cheap, they are portable and they have high capacity.
Consider how those attributes could be beneficial in today's big data world. Companies today have so much data that they struggle to store it all. Public clouds offer unlimited storage capacity but bill subscribers month after month for the storage space that they consume.
Furthermore, these storage charges may only account for a fraction of the total cost of backup to the cloud. Providers typically bill customers any time they access their backups. If an organization ever needs to restore a cloud-based backup to a system residing on premises or in a competing cloud, the organization will generally incur a hefty data egress fee for any data that it restores.
An organization that is considering its big data backup options must look at more than just cost and capacity. The data's change rate is another important factor. If an on-premises data set has a high change rate, then a cloud backup system might potentially be unable to keep pace with the stream of data that it needs to back up. This is less of a problem than it used to be but is still an important consideration for large data sets with a high change rate.
Tape is just one part of a backup strategy
The best way to keep costs in check and address logistical challenges is often to adopt a multipronged backup strategy. This combination of efforts might include cloud and disk backups alongside magnetic tape.
Cloud-to-cloud backups are usually the best choice for protecting data that is already in the cloud. There are advantages to backing up on-premises data to the cloud, but organizations cannot ignore the time and money required to restore on-premises data from a cloud backup. As such, organizations often prefer to use cloud backups as a secondary backup tool rather than backing up on-premises resources solely to the cloud.
Disk-based approaches are a common choice for backing up on-premises data. Continuous data protection tools that rely on disk can back up data almost instantly. However, continuous backup systems have a finite storage capacity.
Magnetic tape storage remains a highly viable option for data archiving. For example, many organizations have data that they rarely access, but must retain due to compliance requirements or other regulations. If these organizations move that data off primary storage and onto tape, they can free up space on the disk-based backup system. While archiving this type of data to the cloud might also be an option, tape is typically less expensive. Tape is also easily portable, which can enable organizations to move important data off site to a secure location.
Magnetic tape capacities tend to vary based on the tape format that is being used and if the data is being compressed. Even so, modern tape formats are well-positioned for protecting big data. Current generation LTO-9 tapes, for example, can natively store up to 18 TB of data. This capacity increases to 45 TB when compression is used. The upcoming LTO-10 format will support 36 TB uncompressed capacities and a tape with compression enabled will be able to store up to 90 TB of data.