The role of tape storage in 2021 and beyond

Published: Friday, 29 January 2021 08:36

Tape is far from being yesterday’s storage technology says Rich Gadomski. As well as a continued role in IT resiliency and business continuity it has an emerging role in protection against ransomware and in managing the needs of the digital enterprise.

The year 2020 will certainly be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic, the defining global health crisis of our time.  The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic has touched everyone and the long-term impact remains unclear. What is clear as we move towards the post COVID-19 digital economy will be the need for cost containment under increasing IT infrastructure and storage budget constraints. There will be a renewed focus on cost-effectively managing pre-COVID exponential data growth plus the influx of new data demand as organizations have shifted to all digital, remote and virtual work environments including government, education, entertainment, health care and nearly everything else. Cybercrime and ransomware attacks will continue to threaten the economic viability of organizations as well as individuals. The continued increasing demand for IT services will result in an explosion in energy use and carbon emissions raising concerns about how to keep the industry’s environmental impact and its impact on climate change in check.

Using tape in cyber security

Security and cybercrime protection have gained serious attention in recent months. Ransomware attacks are on the rise and attacks become more targeted and damaging, your organization faces increased risk that can have your networks down for days or even weeks.

The tape air gap, inherent with tape technology, has ignited and renewed interest in cybercrime prevention. The ‘tape air gap’ means that there is no electronic connection to the data stored on the removable tape cartridge therefore preventing a malware attack on stored data.  HDD and SDD systems remaining online 7x24x365 are always vulnerable to a cybercrime attack. Cybercrime is expected to cost the world $6 trillion in 2021 with ransomware attacks occurring every 11 seconds. Air gapping should be an integral part of any archive, backup, recovery, and security plan. In addition to cybercrime protection, tape provides a secure offline solution for backups. The best practice data protection scheme is often described as the 3-2-1 rule: at least 3 copies of the data, on at least 2 different media technologies (i.e.: one on HDD, one on tape), and at least 1 copy that is offline and offsite.

The role of tape in the digital enterprise

The continuing growth of digital data and the need to preserve more diverse data types are also changing the storage landscape. Data is now being generated faster than it can be analyzed, significantly extending data retention timeframes. The archival usage model of storing and protecting vast amounts of data for indefinite periods of time is quickly evolving. Fortunately, modern data tape continues to be fueled by significant technological and architectural developments and this trend shows no signs of letting up. Steady advances reinforce tape’s ability to continue to deliver the lowest cost, highest capacity, fastest data transfer rates, and most reliable digital storage medium available. With reliability levels three orders of magnitude better than the best HDDs, tape is the most cost-effective, most energy efficient long-term storage solution available.

Tape TCO advantage protects the bottom line

Tape’s cost per terabyte and TCO advantage compared with other storage mediums makes it the most cost-effective technology for data protection and long-term data retention. Easy to use and publicly available TCO calculators are available from Fujifilm and the LTO consortium. These tools allow users to define input assumptions to help assess the TCO of automated tape systems compared to HDDs and cloud storage.

Energy savings

Data centers / centres and information technology contribute nearly 2 percent to global carbon emissions and currently consumes over 2 percent of the world’s electricity and is expected to soar up to 8 percent by 2030 as concerns about the availability of sufficient power supplies grow. Hyperscale data centers are directly confronting this challenge as the insatiable growth of servers and disk farms are devouring budgets, overcrowding data centers, and creating enormous energy and carbon footprint problems. Shifting less active and archival data from disk to tape and virtualizing servers are the two most significant ways of reducing data center energy consumption. Tape cartridges spend most of their life in a library slot or on a shelf and don’t consume energy unless mounted in a tape drive, making tape the ideal archival storage choice. Building another data center is extremely expensive mandating that energy consumption be efficiently managed accentuating the significant role tape is playing in data center economics. For large-scale data centers adding disk is tactical – adding tape is strategic.

Storage optimization

Today’s data center storage technology hierarchy consists of three technologies - SSDs, HDDs and tape and the ideal storage implementation optimizes the strengths of each. However, the role tape serves in today’s modern data centers is expanding fast and tape momentum will increase as data growth continues on an explosive trajectory across many new applications, workloads, and in most of the hyperscale data centers. With these advancements in place, modern tape technology delivers the most reliable, cyber-secure, energy efficient, and cost-effective data center storage solution available today. Roadmaps signal this trend of steady technological tape innovation to continue well into the future.

Even with a global pandemic in full swing and how it will play out remaining unclear, the digital data storage landscape continues to expand presenting a constant stream of new challenges and new threats. This is evident for the tape industry as the steady arrival of many rich technology improvements has set the stage for tape to remain the most effective storage solution for the enormous high capacity and data protection challenges that lie ahead.

The author

Rich Gadomski is co-chair of the Tape Storage Council, Active Archive Alliance and Head of Tape Evangelism at FUJIFILM Recording Media U.S.A., Inc.

Adapted from Tape Storage Council 2020 Annual Report: Tape Has Become a Strategic Imperative in the Mass Storage Landscape.