It may be hard to imagine that magnetic tape storage has been around longer than many people reading this paper. Tape drives even pre-dated the first generation of hard disk drives, and they have been a staple in most enterprises as a relatively inexpensive and standardized backup medium. Some industries and workloads, such as government and certain regulatory environments, still demand the removable media and standard data interchange provided by tape drives.
But backup, along with other long-term data retention functions such as archiving, Disaster Recovery and discovery, looks and behaves very different today than it did in the era before 24/7 e-commerce, compliance and prohibitively expensive downtime.
While tape still remains a relatively low-cost solution for long-term data retention due to its low capital expense, there are several significant pain points associated with continuing to use tape storage for enterprise-class workloads. The severity of these challenges have grown in direct relationship to the growing importance of data protection, risk mitigation, compliance, e-discovery and business continuity.
In a nutshell, while tape storage is cheap from a Capex perspective, it is far more expensive than generally understood on the Opex side. And, even more importantly, tape storage is slow—far too slow, in fact, for the demands of today’s work cycles. As data expands dramatically in volume, variety and velocity, tape has become a severe bottleneck for organizations grappling with shortening backup windows, performance lags, latency and increasing manual intervention.
Instead, many organizations are looking to the cloud as a more efficient and effective way to handle long-term data retention, reducing or even completely eliminating their need for a seemingly endless supply of tape cartridges. This move also is being accelerated by the emergence of new storage efficiency techniques for the cloud that are making long-term data retention in the cloud far more economical and flexible than ever.
Tape may not be dead, but it’s not healthy enough for today’s needs
Today’s workloads—even those once considered “tactical” or deemed not to require immediate availability—have simply outgrown the capabilities of tape storage. Tape is too slow, lacks many essential storage management features, fails to deliver on new automation mandates and comes with many hidden operating costs that eradicate its relatively low capital costs.
Tape storage also lacks the reliability offered by modern storage technologies, which puts enterprises at greater risk for data loss, application downtime and long restore times in the event of a failure.
For Tier 1 workloads, recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs) are of critical importance, and tape’s technical limitations—and high use of manual intervention for mundane but core tasks such as backup, archiving and recovery—render it ineffective for those requirements. But even Tier 2 and 3 workloads now demand improved performance and uptime due to the 24/7, global operating requirements of most organizations.
Not surprisingly, IT purchasing of tape solutions has plateaued for the past several years. Purchasing intention data from IT professionals questioned by TechTarget indicates that only 13% expect to purchase tape libraries in the coming year, and only 4% expect to buy tape-vaulting solutions.
Cloud storage, by comparison with tape, is surging. TechTarget’s research with IT buyers indicates that cloud-based disaster recovery will be purchased by 22% of respondents in the coming year, while 48% of IT respondents say they either are already using cloud storage for backup or are planning to adopt it within the next 24 months.
A major driver for this trend is the significant improvements in RTOs and RPOs offered by cloud storage compared with legacy tape systems. By leveraging the state-of-the-art storage infrastructure provided by private (on-premise) or public (off-premise) cloud solutions, data can be restored much faster and with much less manual intervention.
Cloud also provides important risk mitigation and disaster recovery/avoidance by preventing accidental overwrites or deletions often associated with older tape systems, as well as avoiding data integrity loss through repeated read backs.
Finally, there is another key change that is driving demand for cloud-based data retention: lower costs. Until recently, some enterprise decision-makers opted against moving long-term data retention to the cloud because they felt the typical cost of cloud storage didn’t match up well with the very low capital expense of buying tape drives and cartridges. But the rapid growth of cloud storage options has driven pricing to more attractive levels, while many smart storage administrators have realized that the cost of the manual intervention and off-site storage associated with tape often resulted in higher operating expenses.
By eliminating off-site tape storage costs, reducing associated labor costs, as well as optimizing data efficiency with compression and single instancing , enterprises can scale performance and capacity on demand. Today, more than ever, the economics of cloud storage are far more attractive than most traditional tape-based backup systems.
What to look for in a cloud-based data retention solution
Once you’ve determined that cloud storage is a better long-term data retention solution than tape, it’s time to make your checklist of functionality and capabilities when shopping for the best cloud storage platform.
Your cloud storage platform should:
- Support hyper-efficient storage capabilities, including compression and single instancing.
- Enable enterprise-class scalability in both capacity and performance, without having to reconfigure storage infrastructure.
- Allow connections to popular public cloud options such as Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft Azure and Rackspace in order to support policy-driven data tiering.
- Support both current and emerging storage and networking protocols.
- Be built on modular, node-centric architecture to increase overall backup performance and ease provisioning.
- Recheck cryptographic hashes to ensure data integrity.
- Allow for any combination of deployment models: on-premises, off-premises or hybrid.
- Integrate with popular, familiar and widely utilized backup and storage management software products.
Finally, be sure to align with a cloud storage provider with an established track record for storage innovation, reliability and technical excellence, as well as a deep knowledge of enterprise storage management requirements such as compliance, information governance, data retention policies and storage tiering.
Hitachi Content Platform—The New Paradigm
One of the industry’s most innovative and highly rated cloud storage platforms is Hitachi Content Platform (HCP), a highly scalable, high-performance and secure cloud storage solution from Hitachi Data Systems, a long-time storage industry leader and technology pioneer.
HCP is an object storage solution that offers petabyte-level scalability, metadata gathering and intelligence tools and support for both current and emerging storage protocols. It also is designed for seamless integration with valuable software tools, including Veritas NetBackupfor data protection, Veritas Enterprise Vault for archive and HCP Anywhere for enterprise file sync-and-share.
Another key software feature of HCP is NetBackup Cloud Connector for HCP, designed by Veritas as method to help enterprises transform their secondary storage from tape-based to cloud-based. It is built into the industry-leading NetBackup software solution with no requirement for a special plug-in. It allows for encryption with at the source (NetBackup) or destination (HCP).
Enterprise storage managers with experience in using NetBackup enjoy numerous important benefits for the HCP implementation, including:
- Cloud-ready design supporting multiple access protocols.
- Logical and physical scalability, supporting up to 64 billion objects and 333 petabytes of usable capacity.
- Scalable performance up to 8.5 Tbytes per hour per node, with linear scalability up to 80 nodes.
- Global cloud access via a single namespace, offering read/write access to all physical systems.
- Simplified, integrated cloud-based storage management.
HCP also offers enterprises critical flexibility in working with private, public and hybrid cloud environments—a key requirement for workload portability and easy migration. Finally, HCP is more than just a long-term data retention platform; in fact, many organizations also utilize HCP for a wide range of primary storage—both on-line and near-line—requirements because of its cost efficiency, high capacity, fast performance and rock-solid reliability.
Use of tape storage will likely continue for some time, but there’s little doubt that more and more enterprises no longer can ensure reliable, highly available backup, archiving, recovery and restore with a decades-old technology. As a result, organizations are rapidly adopting cloud storage platforms for a wide range of secondary storage use cases.
For long-term reliability, efficiency and cost effectiveness, storage administrators and IT professionals should turn to the cloud for data protection, data retention, disaster recovery and business continuity. By working with a reputable, experienced cloud storage platform company—ideally one with a deep understanding of storage in general and secondary storage specifically—organizations can achieve their business goals with a highly flexible cloud storage framework.
HCP is Hitachi Data Systems’ answer for organizations struggling with challenges associated with long-term data retention in an always-on, global operations environment. Its high-density, multi-tenancy object storage platform offers webscale storage capacity and performance, and helps enterprises meet precise and demanding requirements for compliance, e-discovery and information governance.
For more information on how the Hitachi Content Platform helps enterprises modernize their secondary storage more efficiently and with greater agility than tape, please visit www.hds.com/en-us/products-solutions/storage/content-platform.html.
 “2016 Storage Purchase Intentions Research, TechTarget, June 2016
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