StrongBox Archive NAS solves problem of Long-term Unstructured Data Storage

Unstructured data is burying companies’ storage infrastructures. According to Gartner, files comprise 80 percent of all data, and its growth rate in enterprises will exceed 800% in five years. Compounding this problem is the need to store these data for longer periods. “Long term” used to mean 15 years, now 20 years is not uncommon, and for many companies, “forever” is becoming the norm. What’s needed is cost-effective storage, a solution that’s simple to use but able to handle the challenge of long-term data retention for unstructured data.

An Unstructured Data Solution

StrongBox is a ‘plug and play’ NAS appliance that presents NFS and CIFS shares to users and applications on the front end, and connects to tape on the back end using LTFS. It holds up to 65TB of RAID storage internally and can connect to additional external disk storage as well. StrongBox manages file placement on the system based on policies that users can set at the share level. These tunable policies enable the system to blend storage technologies to support varied performance requirements while maintaining low operating costs.

Archive Mode

StrongBox was originally designed as an archive appliance. While the system’s functionality has greatly expanded, archive is still at the core of StrongBox’s capabilities. In “archive mode” files are immediately (and automatically) copied to tape and eventually deleted from disk as they ‘age out’, based on the user-defined archive policy. The system optimizes the amount of data kept on disk to meet application performance requirements, and moves less active data off to tape. But at least one copy of the file is always kept on tape for data protection.

StrongBox enables companies to easily leverage the economic benefits of tape by extending the effective capacity of the tier-1 NAS storage area on the front end. Files that don’t need the immediacy of access that disk storage provides are moved off to tape but still readily available for promotion back to disk.

On the back end, StrongBox leverages tape’s scalability by providing an essentially open-ended storage area, but adds tape’s retention capabilities as well. Files that are no longer needed, but can’t be deleted, are stored on tape, a medium that provides data resiliency and an immutable copy for regulatory compliance.

Storage Mode

Now Crossroads has added the ability for their NAS to serve as primary storage. With the “storage mode” users can extend the on-disk period indefinitely, setting the share-level archive policy such that the system won’t move files from disk. StrongBox still sends a copy of all files to tape for data protection, but does this as a background process, not immediately, as the archive mode does.

This means that performance will stay at ‘disk speeds’, since data won’t be fetched from tape as long as it’s in storage mode. StrongBox is unique in that it can manage data shares in both modes, simultaneously, to meet application performance while maximizing storage economics.

Data-in-place Archiving

This feature allows companies to accommodate their unstructured data sets that do change by putting them in storage mode for the first several months and then switching to archive mode, at the share level, after they’ve stopped being modified.

This ‘in-place’ archiving means there’s no need to copy data from primary storage to an archive storage tier. IT can manage the policies of specific file shares and make them transparent to the user, for whom there’s now essentially no distinction between NAS and archive.

No Backups Needed

Since all data is automatically written to tape, even files in storage mode, StrongBox provides real data protection in the form of a second copy. This eliminates the need for backup of these data volumes. In fact, share-level policies can be set to automate the creation of multiple copies of data and store them on separate media, a feature that simplifies the exportation of physical tape cartridges for additional protection.

DR Protection

For disaster recovery (DR) these tapes can be carried off-site and read by any system that supports the LTFS format, as discussed below. StrongBox can also replicate data asynchronously to another StrongBox system over the WAN, to support an automated DR process.

Tape extends disk storage

Instead of adding all the hardware that’s incumbent with a modular architecture, StrongBox extends the capacity of NAS transparently, using LTO tape. Crossroads shows that StrongBox is ½ the cost of comparable object storage capacity at $0.003 per GB per month. That’s one-third of a cent per month for each gigabyte stored, and even less for larger data sets and longer retention.

StrongBox uses the LTFS standard for writing file data to tape, an open source file system protocol that’s ideal for archiving applications. LTFS creates an index on each cartridge that can be read with a simple utility or by an application driver. This makes each tape ‘self-describing’, so that archived data can be accessed on any computer system without proprietary software. It also eliminates any dependence on hardware or software systems, including StrongBox, for data retrieval.

Blended Environment

Companies are using StrongBox to take the pressure off tier-1 NAS, by providing a more cost-effective solution that’s easy to use with existing NAS appliances. By copying data sets to StrongBox, or having other NAS systems write to StrongBox, they can free up expensive space on these systems.

This ‘blended environment’ can save money by postponing the next storage upgrade and speed up performance as well, since many of these NAS systems start to slow down as they near capacity. StrongBox provides essentially limitless file storage that’s protected long-term with file-level integrity checking and tape-based health monitoring.

StorageSwiss Take

Unstructured data storage isn’t a problem that’s coming; it’s already here and getting worse. This is a ‘perfect storm’ scenario: a large data set that needs reasonably fast access and often must be kept for long periods of time, economically. For many companies unstructured data is breaking traditional storage solutions.

NAS is ideal for simplicity and access but it doesn’t scale well for archiving and still has to be backed up. Scale-out storage systems are more economical (no backup required) but can get expensive as well, especially with the cost of hardware nodes needed to support these growing data sets. Traditional archive systems leverage tape’s economics but add another level of complexity all their own.

Crossroad’s StrongBox marries the simplicity and performance of NAS with the economics, longevity, and (with LTFS) the open-format nature of LTO tape. The new “storage mode” feature simplifies operation of this NAS and makes the line between storage and archive almost invisible. StrongBox is an ideal digital content repository but also an excellent way to improve the economics of an existing NAS infrastructure.

Sponsored by Crossroads

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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