Tape storage systems continue to evolve with long-term data archiving functionality

As more and more organizations turn to disk backup, tape continues to evolve with data archiving specific functionality.

Tape storage systems have a number of inherent benefits for long-term data archiving -- tape can be truly offline; it can be easily transported offsite; and though disk prices continue to fall, tape is still relatively inexpensive. "Disk is very well suited for backup, especially now with technologies such as deduplication making it more practical," said Mark Peters, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. "But for long-term archive tape is the thing."

And, as many organizations turn to disk backup for ease of use and faster restores, tape vendors continue to innovate. In addition, many of the recent developments in the tape market are aimed at making tape more useful for long-term data archiving.

In this tutorial, learn about the latest developments on tape storage systems, LTO-5 and LTFS, the differences between backup software vs. archiving software, and how tape is evolving into a long-term data archiving medium.

Recent developments in tape storage systems

At the high-end of the tape market, Oracle Corp. recently introduced the T10000C tape drive with an uncompressed data capacity of 5TB. Its SL8500 Modular Library System can handle 100,000 cartridges and up to 640 tape drives. "Five terabytes is a big bucket," said Robert Amatruda, research director, data protection and recovery at IDC. "Just the fact that Oracle is investing this heavily in the tape market is really big for the industry." 

Also, the Spectra Logic T-Finity tape library, which uses LTO-5 tape cartridges, offers 30,000 drive slots and 120 drives. A T-Finity library complex, which takes up four data center rows with robots that pass between rows, can scale to 120,000 slots and 480 drives. Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co., IBM Corp. and Quantum Corp. are also major players in this segment of the market.

From a data archiving standpoint, these tape libraries offer massive capacity and are designed to be used as a part of a storage pool managed by software such as Oracle's Sun Storage Archive Manager (SAM), FileTek's StorHouse, or IBM's High Performance Storage System (HPSS). These products act as an abstraction layer between applications and underlying storage tiers, treating archiving as a part of an automated tiered storage scheme moving data, based on given user-defined policies, from high-cost, high-speed disk to lower cost SATA disk, and then onto tape over time.

"[This approach] has been called different things at different things at different times. A couple years ago, it was called hierarchical storage management," said Amatruda. "At the end of the day, the value of data changes over time. And tape really is cost effective, especially when it is architected correctly with built-in automation in very large implementations."

"We've been drawing triangles and pyramids for years and said that storage management is about having the right data on the right storage at the right time," said ESG's Peters. "The problem is that we couldn't do it." He also said that he expects to see an uptick in interest in tape driven by this type of automated tiering.

Editor's tip: For more about choosing the best archiving media, check out this tip on data archiving techniques.

LTO-5 tape and LTFS

LTO-5 tape emerged last year along with the Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which allows users to drag and drop files to and from tape the way they do with disk. LTFS is open source, so any application provider or tape user can download the LTFS spec from the LTO Ultrium website.

"LTFS gives LTO tape a good deal of permanence because it allows users to access data without any third-party software and avoid the reclamation process of finding tapes, restoring data and so on," said Amatruda. "Tape has been demonstrated to have a lifetime of over 25 years, but as time passes you need to maintain older applications to access that data. LTFS has the potential to alleviate that need."

LTFS has been integrated into tape drives from a number of organizations including Spectra Logic, IBM, and HP.

Editor's tip: For more about LTO-5 tape, read this article on LTO tape technology.

Backup software vs. archive software

There is still a good deal of confusion about the difference between backup and archiving. Some organizations simply consider their backups archives. However, for organizations required to retain information for compliance reasons, archiving specific software offers functionality designed around these needs.

Backup software is designed to restore lost or corrupted data. On the other hand, archiving products like Atempo, Autonomy Zantaz, Iron Mountain/Mimosa NearPoint and Symantec Corp. Enterprise Vault are designed around search and retrieval. These products catalog files, storing metadata about when each file was created, who created it, what type of information it contains, and index the content so it's searchable.

Peters said that archiving solutions should be file structured, offer policy-based security, and should be scalable. He also noted that it was his understanding that scalability is not always a given.

Editor's tip: For more information about data backup and archiving, listen to this podcast on data backup vs. archiving.

Adoption still in the early stages

"A couple of industries that really come to mind when it comes to tape usage," said Amatruda. "We've seen adoption of high-end tape systems and archiving functionality in the financial, insurance, healthcare, scientific and energy industries." For the most part, users of tape storage systems today use tape as they always have -- as a backup medium. According to the latest Storage magazine Purchasing Intentions Survey, more than 70% still spin at least some of their backup data off to tape.

"Many people just treat their backup as an archive and hope for the best. There's a lot of crossed fingers out there," said Peters. "If vendors make archiving easier, we will see more and more people doing it. In our research, we are seeing an increasing understanding of the importance of data protection in general, especially in the midrange."

According to Amatruda, in the tape world, adoption generally happens at a slower rate. "In the hard drive world in 18 months you are in a generation and out of it, with tape a generation of LTO doesn't really mature until 18 or 24 months," he said.

Editor's tip: To learn about how one organization uses tape for backup and archiving, read this case study on Ohio State University. 

Next Steps

Find out who won the Quality Awards for best tape storage system

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Dig Deeper on Tape backup and tape libraries

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