Hello cloud storage, goodbye tape silo

The rise of cloud storage means the end is coming to the tape silo in the computer room.


Image: Wikimedia Commons/Derrick Coetzee

In my previous article, David Hodgson, SVP at CA Technologies, Inc., described how the mainframe has been forced to change by the cloud revolution. Even though the cloud is not actually killing off the mainframe, Hodgson says it could mean the end of another monster from the past: the tape robot.

One of the mainframe areas seeing big changes is mainframe storage. CA has started supplying technology to transfer mainframe storage to the cloud. First up is its partnership with Amazon and Riverbed and a new product called CA Cloud Storage, which provides mainframe owners with a cloud storage gateway.

Tape, the original mainframe storage medium

Mainframes are used by big organizations with a need to store a lot of data for a long time. In my interview with Hodgson, he gave an example of a pharmaceutical company. "In the drug industry they have to keep records and data for--it depends on the regulations, what sort of drug it is--for 15, 75, or 100 years. Imagine having to keep data around for 100 years."

The old way of archiving petabytes of data for many years was to use tapes. Thousands of tapes. Tapes that require silos for storage and robots to swap them between the library and the tape drives. Hodgson said, "Tapes are incredibly old technology. They've been around since the '60s. They haven't changed much at all, except the density."

Hodgson described some of the problems with tape storage. "Once you've written data to physical tapes, there are all sorts of security problems such as data loss. The thing can just deteriorate. The older they are, the more likely they are to break."

Tape and disk

Several years ago CA created a product called Vtape, a storage virtualization layer that allows mainframe owners to replace tape with disk. Hodgson said, "The idea there was applications that would write to tape storage could now write to virtualized tape. The applications don't know that's what's happening."

Hodgson described why this did not mean the end of the tape robot. "On a mainframe, disk storage is expensive. People were only going to virtualize the tapes that were important to them and that were active. They were not going to virtualize all of their archive tapes."

Tape, disk, and cloud storage

Hodgson said CA Cloud Storage solves the expense of replacing archive tapes. "The basic value proposition of this is cost reduction, which is great because that's what people want to hear." 

Hodgson thinks using cloud storage is a game changer. "It's a natural move for people who have mainframes. They will have tapes, and applications that write to tape. This is an application they can use without changing any of the infrastructure. All they have to do is decide to use a new class of storage, which is one of the Amazon classes."

Tape, disk, cloud, and more cloud

Hodgson does not believe mainframes are going away any time soon. "The majority of the companies with mainframes are so dependent on them, and they are so mission critical, they are not likely to be moving off them." CA intends to expand the use of cloud storage by their products. "It's more about 'how do you keep the mainframe relevant in the cloud environment?' This whole cloud storage offering is key to that direction."

CA Cloud Storage will expand its use of cloud storage from another way of virtualizing tapes to an entire storage virtualization layer. Hodgson used DB2 backup as an example. "You can extend that layer so the people who are writing to the disk are now writing to the cloud. We already have products that do things like enable you to do, say, large backups of data to places like DB2. What we are thinking is people might like to back up directly to the cloud. We can interface our DB2 backup product with this virtualization layer."

Hodgson said CA is looking for other partners in other geographies. "Is Amazon the right partner, or would a local partner be more effective? For instance, Amazon is big in Japan, but maybe the local businesses there would rather use Fujitsu as a partner. The big financial companies--the types that have mainframes--will be subject to national and government regulations, where data can't go out the country."

No more tape

Hodgson believes that "eventually people will eliminate all the robot infrastructure they've got. It's a saving in floor space, and it's another mechanical thing that gets eliminated."

Large organizations won't be killing off their tape robot any time soon. "Realistically, it will take several years to eliminate their robot tape management device, because they'd have to go through a cycle of replicating all their tapes into cloud storage and testing that retrieval. It's not something that you're going to implement in a couple of months. This is going to be a long-term project to cycle through all the thousands of tapes you might have and eliminate them."

There's plenty of time to say goodbye to the tape silo in the computer room, but the rise of cloud storage does mean the end is coming.