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GUEST ARTICLE: Why tape storage expertise matters

CK Lee | July 16, 2013
Data & Storage Technologies Asia country director CK Lee explains why tape storage expertise is still going to be relevant.

CK Lee _September 2012 modified 

Photo - CK Lee, Country Director, Asia, Data & Storage Technologies, Kroll Ontrack


The worldwide purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA) is set to grow with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.4 percent, totaling nearly US$5.9 billion by the close of 2016, according to a report by IDC.

This exceptional growth is due to increased use and customer adoption of PBBA systems for backup, recovery and storage optimisation with the use of data deduplication. IDC also reports that the drivers for increased investment in PBBA solutions result from the need to improve backup window time, to provide faster restore and recovery times, and to enable seamless integration with existing backup applications.

As a result, organisations continue to aggressively move away from tape-based backup and recovery processes. However, while tape may no longer have the performance or reliability to cope with organisations' growing volumes of data, it is still being deployed alongside PBBA systems in business environments as an archive platform.

The introduction of newer alternatives such as hard disks, solid state storage, optical storage and remote services have significantly dampened the usage of tape in the enterprise but it still remains the most commonly used medium for organisations that cannot operate without long-term, safe and secure storage.

Challenges businesses face when relooking their archiving strategy

Long term investment and business decision made will impact how archiving is done but most companies with tape storage face the common problem of an increasingly obsolete storage method that may not be familiar to IT specialists today.

As such, tapes are often unreadable due to:

- Hardware and software failures: Data is available on tape but the corresponding hardware and software solutions are no longer maintained within the company.

-Lack of expertise: Staff do not have the experience of depth of knowledge to deal with aged hardware or software.

- Wrong storage: Incorrect storage damages the tape through corrosion, exposure to water or excessive heat.
- Incomplete documentation: The tape archive is poorly documented and it is difficult or impossible to locate data.

- Company takeover: Different systems need to be consolidated and data needs to be presented in a uniform and consistent way.

Tape archive issues can present a problem should important information be lost. Even if data recovery is possible, damaged and old tapes often hamper recovery efforts resulting in slower recovery times. This greatly reduces overall organisation productivity and encroaches on the IT experts' valuable time.

When it comes down to dollars and cents, the impact is huge when companies lose petabytes of data due to damaged tapes. IT professionals may look past the probability of needing data from an old tape, but an ad hoc request for information that is not retrievable can often lead to loss of trust, customer dissatisfaction and eventually negative impact on company bottom-lines.

What businesses should think of before embarking on a tape archiving strategy

There are ways to prevent and save time dealing with the woes created by tape. Below are five tips to future proof legacy tape archive and eliminate risks to customer or company data:

1. Know what storage technology you have in-house
Bring order to the storage by archiving, knowing what resides in what format, deduplicating and upgrading current hardware. It is also worthwhile to move data from outdated tape storage to better and more affordable storage types, which reduces the risk of having to juggle too many storage formats and technologies.

2. Assess the health of your tape archive
Conducting periodic checks helps minimise late or last minute discovery of damaged tapes. This ensures that the required data is still available in times of a crisis or when data requests are time-sensitive. Additionally, what was previously written on old tapes may be legacy data that is no longer useful. Such data not only takes up additional storage resources, it also poses additional burden on IT specialists that are tasked to maintain and manage the data. This is why it is also important to check on the IT department's ability to work with tape.

3. Verify staff skills and the time required to access legacy data
This also includes checks on whether the IT department has maintained the software or drivers required to read the old tapes. This assessment should help decision-makers weigh-in on whether to continue investing in obsolete technology or find an external vendor to maintain their system. Not having a plan or consistent maintenance contract for tape storage could result in expensive and time-consuming ad hoc restoration efforts. This becomes increasingly important in the case of a crisis or for litigation situations.

4. Save money by retiring obsolete tech but make room for plan B
Data migration is risky and companies should always consider a backup or potential restoration plan while undergoing data migration. One way to ensure legacy data is always accessible is to engage the help of a tape restoration organisation. Such experts are trained to help keep migration costs low, while providing a pre-defined number of restores at a faster and more efficient pace.

5. Enforce retention and retirement policies
Establish and enforce a retention policy so data is not kept longer than necessary. However, be careful to comply with relevant document retention regulations and that all disposed data is completely erased by using eraser software or a degaussing solution.

Final word

IDC also reports that many companies scaled back or postponed investment in backup and recovery during the economic crisis of 2008/09. However, data volumes continued to grow amidst the need to curtail spending on data lifecycle management.

Additionally, serious issues with older storage frequently only come to light when an organisation needs to upgrade systems, consolidate multiple tape archives or when old company data needs to be retrieved. The above five steps can help companies avoid unnecessary overspends on their tape storage needs. Furthermore, implementing new generations of backup and recovery solutions can provide a significant range of financial, operations and strategic business benefits, resulting in a strong return on investment.

CK Lee is Country Director, Asia, Data & Storage Technologies, Kroll Ontrack.


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