Look again at tape's reputation as old-fashioned - the modern, flexible incarnation has come into its own, argues Stephen Watson.
Tape storage has come a long way from being the "store cupboard" of medias. Today, it is equipped with considerable data capabilities and sophisticated retrieval mechanisms while being transportable and secure, all of which make it ideal for many businesses.
What is tape?
Magnetic tape is a non-volatile storage medium consisting of a magnetic coating on a thin strip of plastic. The tape can store data in the form of tiny magnetic fields. Nearly all recording tape is of this type, whether used for video, audio or general purpose digital data storage using a computer. Magnetic tape drives have been used for commercial data storage since 1952.
Compliance and archival data demand is estimated to grow between 20 and 70 per cent a year, depending on the business, and now represents the fastest growing segment of the storage industry. This growth is driving customers to look for solutions that can handle ever increasing capacities of information. Research from the Storage Networking Industry Association shows that businesses are becoming more concerned about managing their data as it grows year on year.
Linear tape-open (LTO) technology offers automated back-up and scalable libraries allowing businesses to add capacity as they grow. By next year, LTO Ultrium tape will be able to download information at a speed of 240Mb per second, and one tape cartridge will be able to fit a terrabyte of data.
What can tape do?
For companies of any size, the correct tape solution provides insurance for data. Other office peripheries, hardware and furniture are insurable, but data is not - and once gone there is no replacing it. More to the point, waiting for these more tangible items to come through on the insurance won't break a business, but losing all intellectual property such as customer details, contacts and accounts could finish a small business and cripple a large one. As many as 93 per cent of companies that lost their data centre for ten days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the loss occurring, according to 2003 figures from the National Archives and Records Administration in the US.
Tape is the best-value storage media per gigabyte and can keep data safe and in its original quality for up to 30 years. Used wisely, it can guarantee the safety of information if the worst should happen. If a company's premises were hit by a disaster and all data was lost, the prime consideration would be to get the data back, fast. If the data remained safe, tape storage could guarantee the longevity of data for retrieval years later if needed.
Simple storage is important, for small businesses in particular, and nowadays tape archives can be catalogued for easy retrieval, just like a digital filing cabinet. Large swathes of data can be stored at the same price as an industrial back-up, but with the benefit of catalogued search capabilities and the longevity of tape. Tape cartridges are also easily transportable, and the archive for an entire business could be packed away in a briefcase and taken off site for safe keeping.
Keep it safe
Data represents the history of the business and its customers, so leaving it unprotected is tantamount to throwing it away. While organisations struggle to maintain security for their online systems, archives remain vulnerable to malicious attack, fraud, carelessness, as well as accidental loss or damage. Only an archive tape, recorded prior to infection, would be secure against a virus. In fact, tape can protect against all forms of data loss - device failure, accidental damage through human error, viruses, theft and intrusion. Tape has added security functionality that prevents tampering. Write once, read many (WORM) technology allows data to be archived and retrieved in its original iteration. No alteration of the data is possible making it admissible if the integrity of the original copy ever needs to be proved. By next year, tape will be available with data encryption and back-up, even if the information needs to be compressed.
Architectural enhancements including embedded disk arrays for caching, tape SANs, WORM and virtualisation provide large-capacity, automated libraries with the capability to meet new data retention requirements. Comparatively, pricing ranges from a quarter to less than 5 per cent of the price per gigabyte of magnetic disk storage, and a simple tape drive is available for as little as £300.
As part of a multi-level data protection model, tape is the ultimate last resort in the seamless movement of data based on its value. As information becomes less relevant to day-to-day operations, it can be shifted downwards onto less costly storage media such as tape. WORM tape fulfils the need for tamperproof, compliant data storage, without the high cost of optical disks, making tape media the ultimate long-stop.
- Stephen Watson is SWD product marketing manager at HP UK.