3 Roles For Tape In The Cloud

Cloud storage vendors like to say tape is dead. Don't believe it. Here are three ways you should be using it with the cloud.

George Crump, President, Storage Switzerland

June 4, 2013

4 Min Read

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Questions about the usefulness of tape come up often in conversations with users and vendors. The general theory, especially by cloud storage vendors, is that tape has outlived its usefulness.

The reality is that it has not; in fact, I often make the case that tape is actually more useful than it has ever been, especially in the cloud.

Here are three uses for tape in the cloud today.

1. Cloud Seeding.

Tape is an ideal way to "seed" a cloud. Seeding is getting the initial data to the cloud storage facility. Instead of transferring data across an Internet connection for days or weeks, it can be copied to tape and sent to the cloud provider via an overnight truck. If it will take you longer than 24 hours to seed a cloud via WAN transfer, then tape should be considered.

2. Cloud Recovery.

Tape also is a useful way to restore data from the cloud. Although an increasing number of cloud backup providers provide in-cloud disaster recovery, at some point you will want your server and its data back in your data center. With cloud disaster recovery you can run your application in the cloud so that you can return to operations quickly, but it is still not in your facility -- and you probably want it there.

[ Tape dead? Not at this school. Read What Cloud? U.K. University Tries Tape For Backup. ]

While you are running the application in their data center, the provider can send you your data on tape, which you can recover quickly on premises. The final step would be a cloud quick sync of data, updating the data that came in on tape with data that changed while it was in transit.

Some cloud backup companies with this cloud disaster recovery capability claim they have eliminated the concern over recovery time. After all, if your application is up and running in the cloud, who cares how long it takes for your data to sync back down to the local data center?

Obviously there is a reason you want that data and that application back in your data center; otherwise, you would just leave it in the cloud permanently. This is typically either a performance concern or a security concern. If those are issues, the faster you can have that data in your data center the better. As with the initial seed, if you can't restore the data set in a single overnight WAN bandwidth window, then tape is the better option.

3. Cloud Deep Archive.

A final role for tape in the cloud would be for the providers themselves to use it as part of their storage infrastructure. Doing so would allow them to offer an Amazon Glacier-like service. Although that storage capacity might have lower recovery-service-level agreements, if it were offered to you at a lower cost it might be just what you need. Also, you would not need to develop and maintain a tape skill set; the provider would have that.

For example, we use a cloud service to share files between analysts at Storage Switzerland. I want two things from one of these services that none offer as far as I know. First, not related to this subject, I want them to hard sync the most active data -- modified within the last week -- to my iPad so I don't have to count on an Internet connection always being available.

Second and more on subject, I want them to archive older data that I don't need immediate access to and lower my costs or increase my capacity. That archive could be to tape. The net result would be an infrastructure that would allow me to store, cost effectively, terabytes of information in the cloud.

As you can see, tape can play several roles in the cloud. It can help with movement between on-premises and cloud-based storage systems and it can help lower costs. Providers that embrace these capabilities will have a significant advantage over those that do not.

About the Author(s)

George Crump

President, Storage Switzerland

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one the nation’s largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection. George is responsible for the storage blog on InformationWeek's website and is a regular contributor to publications such as Byte and Switch, SearchStorage, eWeek, SearchServerVirtualizaiton, and SearchDataBackup.

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