The Evolution of Archive from Inactive to Active

In the world of archiving data, the ol’ standby technology is tape, and has been for decades. The most recent tape technologies began with DTF in 1994 (which I’ll call Tape 1.0), to LTO in 2000 (or what I’ll call Tape 2.0), with the latest version of LTO being LTO-8, the 8th generation of LTO.

Using tape of any kind is the historical foundation of inactive archive (or cold storage as it’s often called)… Should it still be the go-to choice?

First, Why Tape?

Tape is pretty straightforward. It’s easy to understand, easy to ship offsite for safe keeping, comforting to be able to physically inventory and most “mature” IT organizations have a very well established process for their tape use. And as a technology, both the tapes and the machines to read/write them have improved over time. It’s steadily become faster, can hold higher capacity, and the price per gigabyte has continued to drop over time, just as all storage has.

And tape is still big business. In 2016, over 96,000 petabytes of LTO tape capacity shipped, and amazingly, this was a 26% increase from the prior year.

In the age of “on-demand” everything, why would tape still be so popular?

Data Drivers

The amount of data stored on tape roughly mirrors the general explosion of active data. And much of the time, data stored on tape is much larger, if you aren’t using deduplication or other techniques to keep your archives from getting clogged with hundreds of copies of the same file from across your organization. (There’s been a separate evolution curve for archive software that has made archiving much smarter than it was 10-20 years ago.)

And for companies that already have policies and investments for tape archives in place, why change them when it seems to serve the need that everyone agreed to, cold storage/archiving, so well?

Challenges of Tape

While tape is straightforward and used widely, there are challenges. If you’re using tape for long term archive, It’s typically not directly accessible; and requires physical storage space that inevitably grows over time. Archives of thousands to tens of thousands of tapes are very common for certain industries, and unless actively stored in robotic libraries, must be stored in environmentally-controlled climates, such as an underground vault, in order to keep moisture, heat and electromagnetic energy away from the tapes.

Regardless of how often YOU want to touch archived tapes (perhaps you plan to archive to tape for 7 years for example), manufacturers upgrade their equipment every few years to a new generation and only guarantee that the two prior generations of tape will be compatible with the latest hardware.

This constant generational turnover often forces mass migration projects from tape archives that are 2+ generations old. At some point, it is simply too risky to leave old archives on non-supported generations of tape. And tape migration projects take time, with large archive migrations that can stretch on for months, depending on the library and available equipment.

Cloud Archiving Evolution

While tape technology was evolving, so were other alternatives, including the birth of cloud storage technologies.

Cloud Storage 1.0 inactive archive offerings, like Amazon Glacier, were primarily created to shift costs from CAPEX to OPEX, as any cloud solution does, but from a purely financial perspective, the cost per gigabyte of tape storage has until recently been so low that Cloud Storage 1.0 couldn’t match it.

So while it was possible to ride the wave from Tape 2.0 to Cloud Storage 1.0, unless you were an early adopter of the Cloud, you stuck with tape. And if you stuck with tape, you were not alone. The consensus from most analyst firms have found that only 20-30% of organizations have bothered to try Cloud Storage 1.0 for archive due to price and performance issues.

Here’s the dirty little secret of Cloud Storage 1.0 business models…

Cloud Storage 1.0 was not about saving costs, but rather simply shifting the costs, freeing up IT teams of the requirement to run their own infrastructure, and to buy and use resources on-demand, rather than having to pay in advance for anticipated needs. Those were great reasons to consider Cloud Storage 1.0 solutions, but as with every technology evolution, that was only the starting point of the cloud, not the ending point.

Here Comes Cloud Storage 2.0

The evolution of any type of technology takes advantage of the efficiencies and performance lessons learned from prior generations.

Once cloud storage crossed the line when the cost made it more compelling than the total costs tied to on-premises tape (including power, physical space in the data center, personnel, the media itself and the performance equal to anything you would normally find as warm to hot storage in a data center), we hit the “Slingshotting moment” when inactive archives no longer had to be inactive.

That slingshotting moment made it possible to leap over tape technology, past Cloud Storage 1.0, and take advantage of the next-generation of cloud storage, Cloud Storage 2.0. The end result? With the right solution, data that you would’ve sent offsite to a vault could be as hot as any other active data might be.

Unlike tape, or Cloud Storage 1.0 solutions like Glacier, Wasabi is hot cloud storage, which means that it’s readily accessible whenever it’s needed, within milliseconds. Why would someone take their tape and place it in a salt mine, making it at best difficult to retrieve and at worst untouchable, when it could be stored online, in Wasabi’s cloud?

And with Cloud Storage 2.0, once you realize that your cold storage is now hot… what ELSE is possible when you aren’t stuck with the artificial decisions imposed by the old solutions for cold, warm and hot storage tiers?

Suddenly, you don’t need multiple storage tiers for all but the highest of high performance applications, and can shrink your choices down to one simple, hot, fast, bottomless cloud storage tier.

Archive Has Evolved, Have You?

The evolution of any technology is inevitable. When you choose to embrace the next wave is up to you. But if you’ve been waiting for the price to come down, the bugs to get worked out, and the speed to truly change how you approach archiving, that time has arrived and the migration to the cloud is fully underway.

And we have a lot of solution partners that can provide bridges to move your archive to Wasabi either as primary or secondary storage, allowing you to keep a copy as tape wherever you do that now, mimicking a tape library, or taking an entirely different approach.

Find out more about our most current list of technology partners here.

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