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How can flape storage help my organization?

While flape was a concept coined by Wikibon back in 2012, now might be the time to employ the combination of flash and tape for a multi-tier storage system.

Flape, a combination of flash and tape, might seem counterintuitive on the surface.

After all, flash is a newer technology used in high-end storage arrays, whereas tape has been around for generations. In fact, some industry analysts have been predicting tape's demise for years. But flash and tape's unlikely pairing offers significant benefits.

Pros and cons of flash and tape

To understand the benefits that flape storage brings, users must consider the strengths and weaknesses of flash and tape.

Flash storage is popular for a reason. The main benefit to using flash, particularly NVMe, is that it is fast. Additionally, flash media does not contain any moving parts. As such, it tends to consume less power than traditional spinning disks. And, unlike spinning disks, flash media is quiet, and it produces comparatively little heat.

Despite these benefits, flash storage has at least one significant shortcoming: Flash drives tend to have relatively low capacity. While high-capacity flash drives exist, the cost per gigabyte tends to increase sharply.

Tape tends to have the opposite problem. Tape offers huge storage capacity at a low price per gigabyte, but unless users perform a linear operation, tape is slow. In addition, tape is a sustainable form of storage, given its relatively low power consumption.

Flape offers the performance of flash and the capacity of tape, all at a fraction of the cost of an all-flash array.

Flape as multi-tier storage

Flape brings flash and tape together into a multi-tier storage architecture. Like other multi-tier storage architectures, flape classifies data as either hot or cold. Flash stores frequently accessed hot data, while cooler data resides on tape.

Some flape stores all data on tape, however, and uses the flash storage as a read/write cache. In either case, flape offers the performance of flash and the capacity of tape, all at a fraction of the cost of an all-flash array.

The concept of multi-tier storage is not new. Most multi-tier platforms store hot data on flash and cooler data on spinning disks. They likely perform better than tape in retrieving cool data but have a higher cost per gigabyte.

Another option is a hybrid platform that combines flash, spinning disks and tape into a three-tier architecture. Such architectures store the hottest data on flash, cooler data on spinning disks and cold -- possibly archive -- data on tape.

Brien Posey is a 15-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. He has served as a lead network engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense and as a network administrator for some of the largest insurance companies in America.

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