Trash the tape

The 3-2-1 rule of backup still applies, it’s the storage medium that’s changing.

Johannesburg, 13 Jan 2020
Read time 3min 40sec
David McMurdo, Regional Director, South Africa, Veritas
David McMurdo, Regional Director, South Africa, Veritas

Since the 1980s, tape has been the dominant storage medium for long-term data retention. Although there has been a major shift to disk-based storage for long-term retention, the majority of companies still use it for their archived data. It helps them comply with the 3-2-1 rule of backup, where you keep three copies of your data on two different media (usually disk and tape), one of these off-site.

Up until recently, the offsite copy has traditionally been stored on tape to create an air gap between the business infrastructure and the backup. As businesses want to do more with their data, they’re discovering that tape isn’t necessarily the most user-friendly medium when it comes to accessing their stored data.

While companies have the perception that it’s difficult – and costly – to move away from tape to another medium, such as disk-based storage, for example, David McMurdo, Regional Director for South Africa at Veritas, says making the shift from tape to an on-premises long-term retention (LTR) storage platform is less complicated and more cost-efficient than they might think.

Tape has remained popular for so long because it traditionally requires a fairly low capital expenditure, albeit at the cost of increased operational expenses. Tape also enables companies to create the air gap referred to earlier, as the tape can be physically removed from the data centre and stored off-site. Finally, tape-based workflows haven’t evolved much over the years, creating the impression that it’s impossible to move on from them without a complete rip and replace process.

McMurdo outlines five key considerations around archiving and long-term retention in the modern data centre.

Always-available data: full data analytics sweeps are impractical on tape. When using an LTR system, the data is available for things like data classification or analytics applications, which require access to nearly all of the data in an archive set.

Improved recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) service levels. Tape-based data isn’t online; therefore users will be kept waiting for their recovery requests to be actioned. Often the tapes have to be requested from a vault before it can be imported, and data be made available for recovery. Veritas appliances are always online, and the data is immediately available.

The modern data centre is cloud-ready. With tape-based storage, there’s no tiering to cloud, whereas nearly every on-premises disk-based system has some provision for policy-based migration to cloud.

Easier regulatory compliance. Traditional storage requires searching, reading, updating, and rewriting just to remove or anonymise a specific chunk of personal data. With LTR solutions, complying with regulations like GDPR or POPI (which give data subjects the right to see and control their personal data), are no problem.

Reduced opex. Tape-based archives require costly human or mechanical intervention to make data available, while LTR systems require no substantial operational expenses to keep data immediately accessible (other than power and cooling).

There’s a hard-held belief that tape is the last line of defence against ransomware, says McMurdo. He says: “Today, many backups are connected to the rest of the network, which means they’re vulnerable to ransomware. According to a Kaspersky Lab survey, 34% of businesses hit with malware took a week or more to recover full access to their data.

While tape is good for long-term ‘cold’ storage to meet governance, risk management and compliance requirements, disks are preferred for near-term storage and as a source of data for analytics. The key is to use the different types of media for different types of data. It’s all about balancing cost of ownership against the availability of the data. McMurdo concludes: “It depends on the needs of your business and its data; how often you access data and its value, as well as your data recovery service level objectives.”

To read more about how to ‘trash the tape’, click here.