Data storage; look beyond the marketing hype

Posted on 27-Nov-2014

“Once you look beyond the marketing hype of other solutions, you realise tape is by far the most economical and reliable archive solution.”

This quote is from one of Asia-Pacific’s leading professional services consultancies.  A few years ago they moved away from tape as their primary archiving solution.  Since then they have had cause to review their IT solution with in depth analysis of the pros and cons of different data management solutions.  The statement above summarises their conclusion; best practice demands incorporating tape technology into the IT infrastructure.

When NASA Ames Research Center looked for a replacement solution for their existing data management, as well as the 1.5PB/month generated each month, they needed a cost effective, yet reliable and scalable solution.  The answer; incorporate tape technology into the IT infrastructure.  “The active archive solution allows us to reduce cost through the use of cost-effective tape media for long term data retention in place of disk drives, while maintaining reliability plus the ability to easily retrieve data.  Tape is energy efficient resulting in overall energy savings.”

When the University of Edinburgh’s Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) required an archiving solution for the UK’s fastest supercomputer they identified a solution that stood out in terms of technical specifications and economics; tape.  Tape technology offers them the most cost-effective and reliable solution.  One that will “deliver the required high capacity, low footprint and operational cost attributes.”

Estimates suggest that over 95% of data is never accessed again beyond 90 days after creation.
Given this, it makes sense to actively archive older data to the most cost effective and reliable solution, tape.

A respected research group analysed the TCO of a SATA Disk System vs LTO Tape Library System.  They looked at the archiving over 9 years of significantly growing data sets.  They concluded;
• The disk based solution was 26x the TCO of the tape based system.
• The cost of energy alone for the disk based system exceeded the TCO of the tape based system.
The more data archived to tape the greater the saving.
• With 50% on tape, the TCO reduced by 48%
• With 90% on tape, the TCO reduced by 87%

Given an LTO-5 data cartridge offers a maximum of 1.5TB native data capacity (3.0TB compressed) for a one off cost @ $0.02/GB the economics alone make tape hard to ignore.

Today, an LTO-6 cartridge holds more than 6.25 TB of compressed data, which translates into about 1.2 cents per GB. Competing storage solutions can’t come close to that value. That same cartridge, when coupled with an LTO Generation 6 drive, can transfer data at more than 400 MB/second, a speed that rivals disk.

That’s impressive, but expectations for Generation 10 are off the charts. Capacity for one cartridge is expected to approach 120 TB compressed, while throughput is expected to reach a blazing 2,750 MB/second. And while it’s still down the road a bit, LTO Generations 7, 8 and 9 are expected to fill the gap in the interim.

With both Sony and Fujifilm recently announcing breakthroughs in data tape manufacturing technologies resulting in 185TB and 154TB LTO cartridges, respectively, tape will continue to play an important role in any IT infrastructure for decades to come.

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