Backup Storage: Disk vs. Tape

Disk or Tape? Guess Which Technology Has a Future.

Rumors of tape’s demise have been circulating for almost 3 decades, and yet the medium is still with us. But perhaps not for much longer: Now that the cloud is muscling into the backup and archiving role, it looks like tape-based storage may be nearing its final days.

As far back as 2010, The Register reported a 25% decline in tape drive and media sales. Fast- forwarding (to use some tape-derived slang) to February 2017, the same publication speculated aloud about the latest nail in tape’s coffin, in an article titled “Did Oracle just sign tape’s death warrant?

When pressed by The Register about the future of Oracle’s StreamLine tape library product, the vendor responded “no comment.” While this falls short of a definitive end-of-life statement, it certainly casts serious doubt on the product’s future. In fairness, we’ll note that StreamLine is a legacy product family originally designed and built for mainframes. Oracle continues to promote the open LTO tape format, which is supported by products from IBM, HPE, Quantum, and SpectraLogic.

Still and all, the argument rages on. In a detailed comparison of disk vs. tape for long-term data backup and recovery, Iron Mountain opines that tape is best. This is hardly a surprising conclusion from a provider of offsite tape archive services. It just happens to be incorrect.

How Iron Mountain Got it Wrong

Let us count the ways. In its own evaluation of storage trends, including the increasing prevalence of cloud backup and archiving, Network Computing concludes that “…tape finally appears on the way to extinction.” As evidence, they cite the declining price of hard disks, the ever-greater affordability of cloud storage, and the fact that cloud is labor-free. “The bottom line,” the article observes, “is that for most users, we’ve reached the point where tape’s advantage over storage on disk has been supplanted by the cloud’s advantage over tape.

We concur. And we’ll go Network Computing one further, by spotlighting a tape deficit that’s even more critical than price: namely, serial—and glacially slow—access to data. Disks, on the other hand, retrieve information randomly, easily, and in the blink of an eye (whether spinning disks or flash-based disks).

To access data from a disk-based archive, you simply search the index, click on the object or file you want, and presto, it’s yours. By contrast, pulling a specific file from tape is akin to pulling teeth. First, you physically comb through a pile of cartridges, either at a remote site or by having them trucked to you. Then, if you actually identify a cartridge that seems to contain what you’re looking for (tape indexes are notoriously imperfect), you have to manually scroll through to pinpoint and retrieve the data.

This tape drawback is well known. But with powerful analytics now extracting business intelligence from archived data, the need for frequent access—and thus the inherent advantage of disk—becomes decisive.

Passive Archiving is Now Passé

Gone are the days when data was retained only for compliance and auditing. Enterprises now want to learn from past experience. They’re realizing that their mountains of historical data are a treasure trove of hidden gems—patterns and trends of purchasing activity, customer preferences, and user behavior that marketing, sales, and product development can use to create smarter strategies and forecasts. Legal discovery is another area where mining data archives can yield game-changing evidence and revelations.

Using disk-based storage, you can retrieve haystacks of core data on-demand, load it into analytic engines, and emerge with proverbial “needles” of undiscovered business insight.

There’s not much of a case for tape here. Factor in the added benefits of object storage, and the argument for disk becomes overwhelming.

How Scality Object Storage Makes Disk Backup Even Better

For on-demand data retrieval, disk-based cloud storage beats tape hands down. But combine disks with Scality RING object storage, and you get even better mileage. For starters, the Scality RING runs in your own data center on standard, affordable x86 servers. It’s software-defined, so just like cloud services, it aggregates your resources into a giant storage pool. This saves you money through much higher utilization of the disks you’ve already paid for.

The RING stores both object and file-based data and comes with a separate, distinct index metadata layer that makes search and retrieval easier than ever. To expand capacity, simply add more servers—the RING software automatically rebalances the load. And you can easily scale to hundreds of petabytes without losing an iota of performance.

All in all, the Scality RING is not just superior to tape. For many organizations, it’s also preferable to public cloud backup services. Archiving on-premises with the RING safeguards sensitive and confidential data from the risks and vulnerabilities of the public internet. Plus, you can access as much of your data as you want, as often as you want, without the pricey retrieval fees that cloud-based services charge.

Scality is not the only object storage vendor. But we are the industry front-runner, with global customers like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Dailymotion, and Eurosport. Scality is positioned as a leader in both Gartner’s 2016 Magic Quadrant, and in IDC’s MarketScape for 3 years and counting.

Scality Modern Backup eBook shows how Scality RING backup gives users scalability, flexibility, availability and data recoveryThe Future Belongs to Disk-Based Object Storage

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict the near-term demise of tape-based backup. Don’t be surprised if in a few short years, the phrase “fast forward” is the only live artifact of a technology that has run its course.

As to Iron Mountain’s contrarian conclusion, well, let’s call it what it is: a quixotic attempt by a vendor of legacy systems to postpone the inevitable. The fact is, tape runs a distant second to disk, and continues to lose ground—especially when up against disk-based object storage, either on-premises with the Scality RING or in the cloud.

Want to learn more about the advantages of Scality RING object storage? Check out our Modern Backup ebook.

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