Tape Archiving Holding Steady Against the Cloud

Arthur Cole

They say a broken clock is right twice a day, so what are we to make of all the recent alternatives to tape-based archival storage and the subsequent predictions of tape's imminent demise?

At some point, the naysayers will probably get it right and we'll see the last tape-based archive solution head for the scrap heap. But that days isn't likely to be tomorrow, next year or even in the next decade considering the technology's defiant staying power in an increasingly dynamic data universe.

Nonetheless, things are starting to look grim for tape, what with all the new virtual and cloud-based solutions hitting the market. The latest threat comes from cloud solutions like Amazon's new Glacier service, which is available for a mere penny per GB per month, plus retrieval and data-transfer fees. The company claims 11-nines durability and multi-site replication for added reliability. That last bit is crucial considering that the company's high-profile outages in recent months haven't helped overcome the enterprise's inherent skepticism over the safety of cloud-based data environments. Also on the negative side is the four- to five-hour retrieval process.

Amazon's launch comes on the heels of a similar service from Luminex and Nirvanix, which have teamed up on what they call the first cloud-based tape-vaulting system for mainframe environments. The CloudSAFE service unites Luminex' virtual tape technology with Nirvanix' Cloud Storage Network, enabling a scalable storage and access solution that can be tapped anywhere in the world. The system is intended as a repository for critical data, providing instant accessibility and both storage and transfer encryption. It supports top mainframe operating systems, including z/OS, z/VM, z/VSE and S/390, and can be deployed across Nirvanix' various public, private and hybrid architectures.

Traditional storage vendors are also going after tape, arguing that it has become too stodgy for a user base that is demanding instant access to data no matter what the circumstances. EMC, for example, is integrating its DLm8000 disk-based archived solution with the VMAX storage array, which the company says provides a speedier solution for disaster recovery and compliance purposes and fosters improved data consistency across multiple backup systems. The package provides 2.7 GBps throughput and can emulate up to 2,048 drives for enhanced performance of continuous replication and other functions.

Still, these developments have not soured the enterprise's enthusiasm for tape just yet. Analytics firm Teradata recently tapped Quantum Corp.'s Scalar tape library as a key component of its data protection solution aimed at data warehousing customers. The system features the iLayer management software and Key Manager encryption system that provide a secure, high-availability platform for data protection and archival functions across small, medium and large environments.

It seems, then, that tape is caught in a "two steps back, one step forward" pattern these days. While development continues to focus on the speed and flexibility of disk-based and cloud solutions, users don't appear too willing to leave their comfort zones when it comes to entrusting vast amounts of institutional knowledge to long-term archiving.

That can change at any time, however, as today's cutting-edge system becomes tomorrow's tried-and-true solution. But in the meantime, I wouldn't start writing tape's epitaph just yet.

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