Virtualization

Has virtualization killed tape?

Rick Vanover explains that he prefers disk-based systems for backups, but does that mean tape is completely out? Share your thoughts.

There’s no question that we’ve seen a fundamental shift in the way we deploy infrastructure today in data centers due to virtualization and related technologies. Along the virtualization journey, we’ve all surely advanced our storage practice as well. Has this made tape not fit in today’s data center? Let’s discuss.

This topic is actually quite near and dear to my heart, and in fact, something I deal with almost daily it seems. I now personally go with a complete disk-based backup approach, and tape is simply no longer my preference. Note, that I called that a preference. The reality is that virtualization makes us deploy more storage, and honestly more advanced storage, than we would have otherwise in a non-virtualized world. This is, indeed, fact; the consolidated impact of virtual machines on storage systems quickly can cause new bottlenecks. And if you haven’t realized this yet – you will!

But tape still has some serious advantages to disk storage systems. For one, the cost per Terabyte is relatively low, and it is very portable. Linear write and read streams also perform quite well for current tape systems. But, my preference is for disk systems. I have horror stories from tape; in fact, I have five stories that are all quite entertaining as to why I hate tape. Find me in a pub sometime, I’ll tell you the stories; they’re worth the listen.

I can’t however deny the reality of today: people need options. Maybe everyone can’t put in that many storage systems, from a supportability standpoint. Maybe a security team can’t be convinced that disk systems or VTLs on disk are just as "archival" as tape. Maybe the bandwidth isn’t in place to get backups off-site exclusively on disk systems. We’re all following the 3-2-1 rule, right? The 3-2-1 rule states there should be three different copies of our data, on two different media, one of which is off-site. That’s an incredibly flexible, yet resilient, approach to data protection and can be drawn up a myriad of different ways with virtualization: disk-based backups, replication technologies, tape media, cloud storage targets, and more. In fact, in 2009 I was pretty sure data protection was the best way to start with cloud technologies – and I still believe that. So much so, that I’ve documented my own personal data protection strategy at home (and yes, I achieve the 3-2-1 rule!).

So, is tape dead? I don’t think so. Do I and other IT pros prefer to replace tape with disk-based storage systems for data protection? Absolutely. In fact, I’ve not met many people who prefer tape, but larger circumstances indicate tape is the best option on the table for the larger set of requirements.

When it comes to tape, what do you think? Are you avoiding it? Have cloud targets given way to a new approach for you? Share your strategies below.



About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

19 comments
Shendar
Shendar

Undoubtably the cloud, virtualization and the continuing drop in hardware price has made disk drives more relevant than before. But I largely think it's the type of data that we need to store that dictates the medium. The company I work for (Zadara Storage) just expanded its cloud service to offer repository storage (write once/read seldom), as this is a vast need for our customers. HDD are the best medium to support this type of low performance yet instantaneous and high availability in the Cloud. But I don't think tape is necessarily a disappearing medium. As storage needs continue to grow at such an explosive rate, different (and new) mediums take on different roles. The use of tape will simply become more specific. An analogy for this would be TV/radio. TV didn't kill radio, it changed the role of radio.


b4real
b4real

The preference is clearly for disk - and @wdewey@cityofsalem.net has a nice cost breakdown. But sometimes it's not always just about costs.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Am I missing something?  RDX 750 GB cartrige (from CDW) $150.  LTO 4 tape (800 GB native) $30.  So a months worth of backup (20 cartridges) plus quarterlies (4) plus annual (1) would be 25 cartrides.  25 x 150 = $3750.  Tape drive ($1400) plus tapes (25 x $30) = $2150.  How is disk based backup cheaper? Now, I could understand a disk to disk to tape, but I don't see having a set of disks that you rotate through being cost effective.


Bill

browgerf
browgerf

I use disk exclusively....With prices of hard drives these days, if provides more bang for the buck.  Important files I do backup to 2 separate disks.

John-A
John-A

Using disk exclusively for backup allows me to continue using my older storage after replacing it with faster and larger disks while it is still depreciating. Finance can easily put studies in front of me that reads that our correctly sized SAN should last 5+ years. I, on the other hand, will always move Production servers and anything else that will fit to the better storage as soon as I can spin up the disks.

Flash120447
Flash120447

Everything goes first to disk, then to tape.

If its really important to more than one NAS.

Tape is the backup of the backup.

billb@yearone.com
billb@yearone.com

I am still using Tape for offsite storage. The cost is still less than hard drive storage. I do use hard drive backup's for most of my VM's.

lkarnis
lkarnis

Good riddance to tape. Expensive, unreliable, slow. Haven't used it in years and would *never* go back.

JohnRomeis
JohnRomeis

As we are not multi-site, tape is best for us for disaster recovery. It's a bit difficult to move disk systems in and out of the business every day. For fast recovery, disk works really well for us.

michael_scalisi
michael_scalisi

To be safe, I think it's important to have archives that are not only offsite, but offline. 

Say you have two sites that back up to each other and the backups are both online. Its conceivable that a virus, malicious employee or hacker could destroy all copies of the data. (or some piece of software causes corruption...etc)

Whether it's tape or disk isn't all that important as long as it's offsite and offline. 

The backups you actually use, however, should be disk. 


midlantic
midlantic

We employ both - I'm a belt and suspenders king of guy...LOL

RNR1995
RNR1995

I personally have not used tape since 98, once our storage surpassed 1 GB

teeeceee
teeeceee

We eschewed tape in 2005 here for disk to disk backup. However for very large backup sets that might be performed weekly, monthly, or even yearly as archives, tape still has a place in the toolbox.

Vandy-SJ
Vandy-SJ

I have converted several SMBs from tape to disk-based backup over the last 4 years. The easiest, most reliable, and cost effective solution I've found is RDX Removable Disk. The RDX drive unit and cartridge hard drives are typically USB attached (internal or external USB), and the device drivers are compatible with Windows 2000 and higher. Most current backup software (Backup Exec, ARCserve, Acronis, etc.) recognize the RDX unit as a backup device. Backup jobs that took 6 hours using tape, now complete in about a hour using RDX. Service-life of the RDX drive cartridges (based on 2.5-inch SATA drives) is at least 5-6 years, and usually longer. RDX drive cartridge capacities are typical SATA ranges: 160GB, 320GB, 500GB, 750GB, and higher. Changing RDX drive cartridges is a simple 'press the EJECT button', remove the ejected cartridge, and insert the next cartridge. RDX may not be the best solution in an enterprise environment, but for SMBs it is a cost effective solution.

esr@hcwb.net
esr@hcwb.net

When we virtualized our servers, I took the old server and dedicated it for backups. Because it had a tape backup drive already in it, I saw no reason to just quit using it, so we do both. I use disk-based backup on Monday through Friday, and I do a weekly backup to tape on Sunday. That way, I have a week's worth of data that I am able to take off-site, but for daily needs, I have the disk-based backup, which is much faster and easier to use. 

sysdev
sysdev

In the mainframe world at least, tape will never go away.  There are too many reasons to even list.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Similarly, we use disk-based nightly and back up to tape monthly for off-site archiving.