• Tech & Trends

Need Easily Accessible Archived Data? Object Storage Is the Perfect Alternative to Tape

By Kim Hock Liu
If You Can’t Access Your Archived Data, Why Bother to Back It Up?

Recently, I spoke to the IT infrastructure director of one of India’s most well-regarded global IT service providers. He shared the challenges of handling tens of thousands of tape drives. The major issue: data retrieval.

For example, say they need to access data that’s over three months old. The current logistics of locating and transporting tapes means retrieval can take over a month. Not exactly time-efficient.

The older the data, the greater the challenges. Bad or missing data is not uncommon, and some data can’t be recovered at all, due to restoration failure.

So, here’s his key message: “If you can’t access data from your backup storage within your business objective’s timeframe, you might as well not back up at all.”

Perception Versus Reality of Tape Drives

Tape drives have been around for decades. The perception that they’re the ideal backup solution is not wholly unfounded. But let’s take a look at the reality, through the pros and cons.

Pros
  • Large capacity: Linear tape-open (LTO)-10 can store up to 36TB per cartridge.
  • Budget-friendly: Favorable unit cost compared to disks.
  • Data protection and integrity: write-once, read many (WORM), compression and encryption features.
  • Remote access: Designed for off-site and offline archiving.
Cons
  • Questionable stability: While vendors claim that that lifespan of LTO technology can be up to 30 years, this estimate is based on the maintenance of the rigorous storage conditions set by vendors.
  • Outdated software: Even if you successfully store the tapes for those 30 years, you’ll still need the supported drive and software for restoration. This places you at the mercy of the vendor.
  • Time-consuming migration: Tape migration can be challenging and time-consuming. Whether migrating backup software or media, the process can literally take years to complete.
  • No deduplication: Most backup software does not support deduplication for tape storage. Even if duplication is written into the software, it’s often not implemented. So, compared to deduplicatable storage, you need a lot more tape to store the same volume of archived data.
The Alternative

The director I spoke to is currently in the process of switching to object storage, starting with email archiving.

Emails archived to object storage can be directly retrieved at any time (slightly more efficient than the one-month wait time of tape). And, by choosing to slowly fade out tape from his system, he allows the day-to-day operations of his organization to proceed uninterrupted.

His company is not alone in switching to object storage. Many organizations are engaging in the same process. Partially driven by COVID-19’s “work from home” culture, and focused on improving productivity, major companies are looking for ways to automate their data protection and retrieval processes.

Why is object storage such a viable option for facilitating automation? It comes down to the following built-in features (based on the vendor, of course):

  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and REST API integration: Object storage can easily read, write and search data through a secure connection. S3 with REST is internet-friendly, with seamless integration to modern applications.
  • Data protection and integrity: Object storage is resilient to viruses and ransomware, through WORM, versioning, encryption, self-protection and self-healing features. No additional backup is required.
  • Automatic data retention and purging: All data is not created equal. With object storage, data can be classified and protected automatically, based on a predefined retention policy. You also have the option to delete and shred automatically, after the retention date has expired.
  • Automatic multisite protection: With object storage, data is made easily available to other sites automatically, through a policy-driven function, including public clouds.
  • Low storage footprint: Object storage can save up to 60x more space compared to tape (assuming you’re keeping a complete monthly backup, up to seven years), through compression, deduplication and erasure coding,
  • High availability: Availability up to 10 nines, with local-site and multisite redundancy.
  • High flexibility and scalability: From 4TB to over a zettabyte, in one single cluster.
Backup Software Vendors Are Adopting S3

Backup software vendors have quickly adapted by supporting the S3 protocol. S3 is the de facto API for connecting to object storage; it’s actually quite difficult to find a backup software that doesn’t support S3.

APAC Customers Are Migrating to Object Storage

At Hitachi Vantara, one out of seven companies in the APAC region prefer to “back up to object storage.” This includes leading industry organizations, such as insurance brokers, financial institutions, telcos and government agencies.

That makes it one of our most popular options. And these customers aren’t just using object storage for archiving. We’re also seeing unstructured data stored, including documents, emails and images.

Conclusion: Companies Need To Prepare for the Future

For better or worse, and at least for the foreseeable future, tape storage is here to stay. But what it lacks is obvious: performance, reliability, scalability, openness and data protection.

Object storage offers all of these features, and more. It’s made for dynamic organizations striving to meet their ever-evolving business objectives.

Here’s my take-away message: Companies should start to evaluate their existing data protection infrastructures now, determining whether it meets the requirements of a challenging and changing business world.

But don’t worry, Hitachi Vantara is here to help. Contact us today to find out more about object storage.

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Kim-Hock Liu is APAC Solution Lead, Data Intelligence, Global Field and Industry Solutions at Hitachi Vantara.

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