Creating a Tape Exit Strategy – BridgeSTOR Briefing Note

While one can argue the pros and cons of a tape exit decision, no one can argue the fact that organizations are making that decision every day. If an organization decides to eliminate tape from its data protection strategy it will face one big challenge, what to do with the existing tape media that potentially holds years, if not decades worth of data.

Tape Exit Options

One option is to maintain the existing legacy backup solution and the tape library hardware until all the data on those tapes expires. This option is costly because it requires the continuation of maintenance contracts. Tape hardware in particular will see its maintenance costs continue to escalate as the unit ages. The organization may find itself in the odd position of having to buy a new piece of hardware to support a process that it supposedly abandoned years ago.

Another alternative is to restore all the data on tape and then back it up again to a new backup software/hardware solution. This option will require the purchase of a “landing area” that temporarily holds data restored from tape until the new system can protect it. Not only is the process expensive, but it also can be extremely time-consuming. It is more than a tape-to-tape image copy since it is necessary to read each file, within each backup job, from the tape then restore it to the disk, and then copy it to the new data protection solution.

A third option is to ship all the tapes off-site to a vaulting service. The problem with this option is that a vaulting service is just that, a vault. Most cannot read the tapes sent to them. That means the organization would need to keep a smaller tape library on-premises so that when old data is required, the vaulting service can ship the tapes back to the organization, which will then restore the data. The process of deciding what is on tape, which tapes to pull, pulling those tapes and shipping them to the organization is both time-consuming and expensive.

A More Graceful Tape Exit

If an organization decides to abandon tape, IT needs a more elegant way to implement the strategy. A more practical strategy would be to use the cloud as a replacement for the vaulting service and electronically transfer tape images to the cloud. There is a problem however. There are no direct tape-to-cloud connections. Tapes don’t speak cloud and clouds don’t speak tape.

BridgeSTOR, a developer of a family of cloud storage solutions, recently introduced the Rio-2 Cloud Backup Server, a hybrid cloud server that provides an iSCSI VTL interface. To the backup software, it looks like an HP Tape Library with an HP LTO tape drive, but the appliance actually connects directly to the cloud.

To move legacy tape to the cloud, the backup administrator merely executes a tape-to-tape copy command, as if they were performing a tape migration, except instead of copying to the next generation tape media, they are copying to a cloud repository. These commands are far faster to execute since there is no need to read or restore anything. These are essentially tape image copies.

Once the process is complete, the organization has created a cloud tape vault. It no longer needs to keep an on-premises tape library. When data is needed from those “tapes,” the administrator executes the restore command just like when the tapes were on-premises. The needed data streams directly down to the data center from the cloud. There is no waiting for a tape vaulting service to find and ship the tapes back.

Sticking with Tape?

For as many organizations wanting to exit tape, there are just as many that will stick with tape and many that are coming back to tape attracted by its low costs, high capacity and high reliability. The challenge with sticking with tape is how to manage the DR copy. Tape-committed shops have similar challenges; do they put a tape library in the DR site or use a vaulting service? Creating a cloud tape vault enables these organizations to use the cloud for their tape DR copy, saving the expense of a second tape library or the cost and response time concerns of a vaulting service. A cloud tape vault also provides these organizations with media diversity, with data spread across disk, tape and now cloud.

More than Just Tapes

The Rio-2 can do more than just create a cloud tape vault. It supports backups directed to it via SMB or NFS. It also can allow Veeam and other backup applications to place proprietary software agents inside the cloud backup appliance. These agents use internal proprietary protocols, which typically outperform SMB or NFS, and being on the appliances eliminates a network hop.

StorageSwiss Take

Depending on the organization, tape will go away or the commitment to tape will become stronger. In either case, the Rio-2 Cloud Backup Server is a viable solution to leverage the cloud. For organizations looking at a tape exit, it gives them a way to follow that strategy without having to maintain an on-premises investment in tape. For those organizations sticking with tape, it provides a way to lower costs by eliminating the need for a redundant tape library at a secondary location. Even for organizations that don’t have a tape decision to make, the Cloud Backup Server can provide applications, which have little or no cloud awareness, with tight cloud integration.

Eleven years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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