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.