Tape Has Died Many Deaths, Now It Lives In The Cloud


It is easy to understand why tape has been occasionally challenged as a key technology for data retention and why it has stubbornly remained indispensable to industries with a great deal data. And while its death has been repeatedly exaggerated, tape continues to offer remarkable attributes that keep it relevant for new markets that may not have even existed at its birth.

Cloud in general has become top of mind for CIOs and IT architects in all industries. Boosting cloud’s appeal are attributes such as low cost of entry, OPEX versus CAPEX, reduced on-premise space utilization, and reduction of IT management resource burden. With these factors in mind, it’s easy to understand business motivations for moving away from on-premise infrastructures to a seemingly more efficient cloud-oriented world.

Cloud Storage Solutions Are Driven To Stay Competitive

Key learnings have emerged as migrations from tape to the cloud have been taking place, specifically in areas related to enabling cloud storage competitiveness. We have all heard cloud is just someone else’s datacenter, but how can a cloud-based data center offer the same functionality as an on premise alternative if it has to cope with the same cost and infrastructure burdens as traditional datacenters?

Certainly economies of scale can help. Cloud services have the ability to scale across many customers, and service providers invest in infrastructure that is substantially more efficient than smaller organizations can afford. That helps a lot — but can a non-tape, cloud based infrastructures compete well against on-premise modern day tape infrastructures?

For smaller customers, it’s pretty easy for cloud services to be competitive. The economies of scale alone can contribute to substantial efficiency and cost improvements. But as a customer’s buying power increases — and as technologies, solutions, and improved practices address historical issues with tape (or any other technology) — cloud services are forced to keep up in order to appeal to a broader base of larger customers. To stay competitive, cloud service providers have become a substantial force in driving the following industry trends.

Tape Trends In Industry

Cloud services are adopting tape storage solutions because tape remains by far the most cost effective storage technology. Behind the scenes of the very well-known and less well known cloud services, tape is being leveraged for all the reasons shown in table 2 below.

Big public cloud providers including Google and Azure are using tape for cold storage and protection, but for the users of their service access to data on tape is completely virtualized. Well, now there are technologies that can enable users to access tape the same way — on premise — enabling customers to build private clouds that take advantage of these attributes of tape.

Tape storage solutions are evolving to deliver new levels of storage density to enable better datacenter floor space utilization (for cloud services and anyone’s datacenter). Investments in tape technology automation solutions continue to be made to better address today’s new world of machine- and sensor-generated datasets.

The increased prevalence of object or file based on-ramps to automated tape library storage enables more open system implementations and data management solutions such as Artico, Black Pearl, and Snowball.

Tape Lives… In the Cloud

Cloud service providers are working hard to deliver competitive offerings, and as IT struggles to deliver to their users better access to substantially more data than ever before(particularly in industries such as those in table 1 below), all data centers must find ways to affordably store large, valuable datasets for very long times.

Table 1: Examples of industries or use cases that generate large datasets
Genomics and bioinformatics
Sensor guided, smart vehicles
Network forensics
Economic analysis
Regulatory retention of finance and healthcare records

Tape-based solutions and associated practices are evolving to the point where enterprises such as cloud services can take full advantage of tape’s unique strengths.

Table 2: Tape-based Solutions
Tape’s Unique Strengths
Lowest cost per TB
Enable isolated (offline) protection against forces such as ransom ware
Portability for offsite storage, offline storage or large dataset transfer
Recent Advances in Tape Solutions and Practices
File and object based onramps virtualize tape storage
Ever increasing storage density on tape (e.g. LTO-7) and new libraries (e.g. Quantum i3/i6)
Automated, hands off data management and migration (e.g. StorNext)

In Summary
Understanding cloud is just another datacenter, solutions continue to evolve to incorporate tape as part of a virtualized storage environment, and tape storage technology and investment continues to set new records in low cost per terabyte and density, tape is already on the path to playing role in all of our lives as an indispensable component of cloud infrastructures.

By Mark Pastor