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Q&A: Tape use for archiving

SearchDataBackup managing editor Ed Hannan and ESG analyst Mark Peters discuss tape use for archiving in this Q&A.

Tape use for backup has been declining for years, but according to Mark Peters of Enterprise Strategy Group, tape-based archiving is on the rise. SearchDataBackup.com managing editor Ed Hannan and Peters discuss the factors that are driving tape use for archiving, things to consider when it comes to choosing the right storage medium for archiving and more in this Q&A.

Everyone says that tape is dead, but it's clearly not dead. What's going on with tape today?

Mark Peters: Right now, the industry numbers suggest that tape is stable to declining overall. However, a lot of that is because there is more emphasis on using disk for backup. This is very often sensible for aggressive recovery time objective and recovery point objective demands, but tape for archiving is still popular and growing. It's being driven by two to three main things: Cloud service providers "get" the value proposition of tape, including a level of data integrity that disks and online systems cannot match; the sheer growth of capacity and retention and legal requirements; and the never-ending pressure on budgets.

What are some common-sense things people should remember when considering tape for archive?

Peters: It is, of course, the least-expensive media in terms of cost per capacity. However, it is also fast (after the time to first byte, streaming from tape is invariably faster than disk), exceedingly reliable (raw reliability is much better than HDDs) and has impressive longevity. These days, there are also tools -- LTFS being the main one -- that allow tape to be searchable and portable between systems. Think of cartridges like giant USB drives.

At what point in the backup process does tape for archive fit?

Peters: Nowhere! Please remember that backup and archive are two very different things -- archive is the primary copy of data merely migrated to a media more suiting its activity profile, whereas backup is a copy of data. Archived data should be backed up! They are not the same.

Well, archiving can be used as a way to reduce the amount of data that needs to be backed up, can't it? They are different processes, but they do have a relationship.

Peters: Well, the one linkage that could help reduce storage volumes and costs is as workloads move to an archive status or tier, backups are less frequently needed as the data is not active or subject to change.

Where should you keep archive data?

Peters: As long as it is backed up safely off-site and at a suitable distance, archived data can be local or wherever. That's more a function of what time to data you can tolerate and how much volume you can afford to move as and when it is needed.

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I understand the differences between Backups and Archives with your both explanation. How do you think and define the following cases:

Meteorological observation data is acquired and stored on a cluster of spinning storage and then moved to an archival storage systems to keep all the acquired data for a period of 50 years and more. At the same time, a vast of meteorological data need to sit on a cluster of spinning storage for daily data mining purpose. Once some data file is lost for some causes, you can get the data from the archival storage systems to restore the lost data. How do you explain this scenario? Besides the enterprise sector, there are a lot of applications where backups and archive need to be clarified. It seems to me somebody need to pay attention to outside of the enterprise sector.

Kumpei FUKUDA,
Consultant, Strategic Business Development
Storage Systems Business Promotion Office
Panasonic Corp.