Tape, disk, or cloud: What’s the best option for your data?

February 14, 2018 Uncategorized
Data center.

Magnetic tape cassettes and cartridges once ruled the data backup roost. The rise of affordable high-capacity disks was the beginning of the end for these formats, a trend that accelerated with the mainstreaming of solid-state drives and the virtually limitless storage of cloud computing infrastructures.

However, tape has made a slight comeback in recent years for niche use cases such as medium-term storage of large quantities of data. Depending on the solution, it is also sometimes cheaper per GB than the alternatives. Let's look at how tape stacks up against its competitors for tasks such as backup, disaster recovery and general data protection services.

Tape versus disk

Disk really began to supplant tape in the 2000s, with a host of advantages, including:

  • Faster access speeds: Tape cassettes and cartridges can take several minutes before they're fully accessible, as they're mounted, positioned and loaded.
  • Fewer moving parts: Reading from tapes requires frequent stop-and-start operation of their respective drives, which increases wear and tear while decreasing reliability.
  • Reduced security risk: Managing tape requires extensive manual workflows that can raise the chances of sensitive data getting lost or even stolen.

Tape hasn't vanished entirely, though. For starters, it can still offer cheaper rates per GB than disk, especially for larger volumes, although its cost advantage has diminished over time and often doesn't factor in extra features such as deduplication. If up to speed and powered by the right drive (both big ifs), it also has extremely fast straight-line speeds. Finally, it's pretty easy to move tape cartridges around and swap them in and out.

Tape versus optical media

Disk delivers the immediacy and dependability often missing from tape, making it preferable when restoration to the most recent backup is critical. What about the very different case of cold storage, though?

Traditionally, tape has been the go-to option for cold storage, which refers to the retention of infrequently accessed information. The limitations we mentioned earlier aren't as relevant when you only have to retrieve something every now and then.

There's another challenger to tape in this domain: optical discs. High-capacity Blu-ray Discs are more reliable, durable and quicker to access than tape drives, plus they're cheaper to manufacture and have very long warranties. Facebook has been a pioneer in the use of optical media instead of tape for large-scale data backup.

Disk really began supplanting tape in the 2000s.Disk really began supplanting tape in the 2000s.

Tape versus cloud (BaaS and/or DRaaS)

Relying on tape or any other traditional form of backup and disaster recovery necessitates managing a significant amount of on-site resources. While the associated complications are most apparent with tape (since a lot of manual work is required), they affect any self-managed backup/DR strategy.

There are undoubtedly some benefits to having full control of your data and IT infrastructures, such as knowing exactly who is responsible for specific tasks. At the same time, there are also major limitations like:

  • Poor cost controls: You can easily pay too much for storage media, e.g. by buying more than you actually need.
  • Security challenges: Not only do you have to ensure the physical safety of your data copies, you also need your own recourse against cyberattacks such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) campaigns.
  • Limited performance: Various budgetary and technical constraints can combine to leave you scrambling to get key services back online when disaster strikes.

Enter cloud-based alternatives, such as Backup-as-a-Service (BaaS) and Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS). These solutions are more economical, secure and high-performing than just about any on-prem setup, whether the latter uses tape, disk and/or Blu-ray.

"BaaS and DRaaS are more economical, secure and high-performing than just about any on-prem setup."

Your service provider oversees infrastructure management, freeing you from the slog of frequently having to update, patch and replace relevant systems. You also gain access to a wide range of different plans appropriate for your needs. For example, you can setup standby DR or replicated DR, depending on the goals you've set for your organization's data stewardship.

The cloud route also helps you ensure secure offsite storage in a Tier 3+ data center. Accordingly, if there's ever an electrical or network-related outage at one of your offices, you have the peace of mind that your data is still safe with your BaaS/DRaaS provider. Cloud infrastructure supports fast and efficient recovery time objectives

Mixing and matching: How tapes, disks and clouds can work together

Of all the options discussed here, cloud is ultimately the most sustainable, since it offers a unique combo of scale, security and cost-effectiveness that local media formats cannot easily match. Nevertheless, it's important to know all your options for optimizing your data protection services and backup/DR strategy.

The recent flare-up in ransomware incidents has highlighted the advantages of having legacy media like tape on hand. Attackers usually cannot easily access these resources like they would internet-connected storage repositories. As a result, tape in tandem with other offline formats like optical discs for cold storage can be part of an effective hedge against cyberattacks. Hybrid hosting is a similarly multifaceted approach that blends different media and location for maximum data protection.

No matter how you end up configuring your backup and DR solutions, cloud is worth consideration, particularly since the traditional cost advantages of tape have dissipated due to the need for well-trained technical staff, additional services like offsite vaulting and the medium's relatively high risk of failure. Cloud can save you money while boosting backup and DR performance, but only with the right partner, like UbiStor. Learn more about your options by visiting our Services page today or contacting us directly.