Tape and Disk Unite

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Views held by tape and disk users are sometimes as divergent as those between dog owners and cat lovers.  Unlike the often disastrous mix of cats and dogs under one roof, however, the side-by-side deployment of disk and tape in a single data center can be very beneficial.

The topic of whether or not tape and disk should co-habitat has been debated for more than 10 years.  The “tape is dead” crowd has been loud and persistent during that period — and rather incorrect.  Hence, it’s time to think about a truce in the best interests of customers’ business operations.

Enterprise Systems pointed out in a Tape vs Disk article in early 2009 that using both for purposes best suited to each delivers benefits to an organization that one or the other alone could not.  ESG earlier this year highlighted the Top 10 Data Protection Trends for 2010 which included #1, modernizing backup with disk, and #2, integrating archives for cost reduction purposes.  This latter point lends itself very well to tape utilization and is particularly true with the advent of Active Archives.

For short term performance and point-in-time backup / recovery, disk is quickly becoming the technology of choice.  However, for long-term data retention, tape is difficult to beat from a cost containment perspective.  The San Diego Supercomputer Center published a Disk and Tape Storage Cost Model which indicated that long-term, large archival storage was suited to tape over disk by a factor of 3 to 1 in terms of lifetime cost.

Given this cost advantage over time and the vast quantity of regulatory retention requirements promulgated across many industries, the need for cost-effective, easily managed, long-term tape storage (active archive), is becoming nearly as important as the continuous data protection practices (backup or business continuance) now being met with disk.  For instance, the following industry segments and retention periods lend themselves to the practical, intelligent use of tape for long-term storage:

  • Adult medical records – 8 years (HIPAA)
  • Biological products manufacturing – 5 years (21 CFR Part 11)
  • Financial services business documents – 7 years (SEC 17a-4)
  • Audit correspondence of publicly traded companies – 4 years after audit (Sarbanes-Oxley)
  • Public utilities general accounting ledgers – 10 years (FERC Part 125)
  • Federal government individual employee payroll – 20+ years (General Record Retention Schedule)
  • Corporate summaries of employee benefit or pension plans – 6 years (Title 20 U.S. Code)

While this list is not exhaustive by any stretch, it does reflect the fact that many organizations, whether they recognize it or not, have requirements to keep data on hand for extended periods of time.  Due to these mandates, the cost / benefit advantages of tape are significant.  Coupled with an intelligent, extensible file-based archive application like any of those from FileTek, QStar, or Atempo and the inclusion of tape in customer environments becomes a readily implemented solution helping address on-going operations and risk management issues over time.  

A well-constructed storage infrastructure would be remiss in excluding either tape or disk from the mix.  Without quick and easy backups, business continuance may be in jeopardy.  Lacking the ability to readily search and retrieve data from deep, inexpensive storage can have disastrous risk mitigation issues from a legal or regulatory perspective.  In either case, the business suffers.  Therefore, long live tape and disk together as they address their respective issues in keeping customers whole.