Disaster Recovery – Moving from Tape to Cloud

By: Victor Nemechek, Director of Solutions Marketing, Data Centre Systems business unit, Western Digital and Vivek Tyagi, Director of Business Development, Embedded & Enterprise, Western Digital – India

We all remember or have heard of the times when magnetic tape was the most advanced option for storing data. The daily loading and unloading of dozens of tapes was a full-time job. Although this procedure was simple, tapes would sometimes come off the track or could jam and break. As technology developed, reel tapes got replaced with cartridge tapes. Cartridge tapes were not only smaller in size but were also easier to load and did not get jammed as often. However, these cartridges had to be labelled, stored and entered into a spread sheet for tracking and recovery purposes.

Why Are We Still Using Tape?

Magnetic tape was a hi-tech solution in the 1980’s, however, even after 30 years, and tons of research and development in the segment, many IT organizations still depend on tape for long-term storage of data. Although tape has the advantage of high capacity at a low cost, data management is time-consuming and cumbersome. Data retrieval can become even more chaotic and any glitch, such as a lost tape, could mean a heavy loss of data.

We all expect an instantaneous experience with data.

Data is the new fuel of organizations, driving business decisions, insights and new discoveries, and resides at the core the world. Consumer behaviour has also changed drastically and now everybody expects an immediate experience with data. There must be instantaneous search results, e-commerce transactions, and more.  The new expectation is for all data to be retained forever, accessible at any point in time and quickly retrievable. Any downtime issues have to be fixed as quickly as possible with no data loss. With this in mind, then why do we still use offline tape with its limitations and slow restore speed?

Why are we settling for mediocrity?

Data centre infrastructure is undergoing massive transformations. With the use of distributed, scale-out architectures, hyperscale cloud companies and enterprises have displayed a much-advanced method of building big data and fast data infrastructures to meet application needs. Hyperconverged solutions have allowed data centre managers to identify the benefits of converging multiple functions, on scale-out platforms. Infrastructures are being built increasingly using software-defined solutions that run on commodity servers, which helps in achieving improved flexibility at reduced costs. And, fast data solutions are bringing decisions and results based on real-time data processing and analytics to our everyday lives. Even with these incredible developments, some IT organizations are still heavily relying on single-purpose technologies to provide protection to their valuable resources.

Disaster Recovery in the cloud era – not what you thought

Although disaster recovery has gone through revolutions, what is surprising is that most of these revolutions are not taking place at the public cloud. Some IT organizations rely on public cloud for retaining large amounts of data for a long period of time. However, they can run into limitations associated with the public cloud, including reduced performance and huge fees when retrieving their own data.

Enterprise IT organizations are witnessing a revolution in disaster recovery in their data centres, via object storage. This technology allows businesses to design and leverage cost-effective and efficient public or private cloud petabyte-scale environments, or a hybrid cloud solution, which combines the benefits of both.  Object storage provides long-term retention of data, improved disaster recovery workflow and, when compared to tape, has a number of other advantages that help companies save money and reduce overall TCO, such as:

  • Eliminating off-site tape costs and risks
  • Optimizing data with advanced technologies like deduplication
  • Eliminating the need to handle, manage and track tapes


Object storage addresses data redundancy, not hardware redundancy

Tape drives are mechanical devices with moving parts. And, as with all machines, they can fail. Tape drives are often susceptible to dust and grit, and wear and tear due to everyday use, which can lead to data loss. Hence, the right methods need to be identified for protecting data stored on these devices.

Traditional data protection and backup methods use costly hardware redundancy; however, object storage is focused on data redundancy and durability facilitating a reliable data storage architecture to help prevent loss, disruption and compromise of data. Object storage makes use of advanced technologies such as erasure coding, continual background verification and geographic dispersing of data to offer up to 19 nines of data durability (99.99999999999999999%).


Security of tapes is another element of concern for organizations. There is always a possibility for tapes to be lost or stolen while being transported to an offsite location. Implementing a private or hybrid cloud object storage solution could help eliminate this security risk and can also help alleviate the concerns of data security and privacy of data in the public cloud.

Performance matters, watch out for “shoe shining”

The recently launched LTO-8 (Linear Tape-Open) tape drives offer a native streaming performance of 360 MBPS (750MBPS compressed), with “streaming” being the key word. In order to achieve this performance, there should be continuous streaming of data to the tape drive. Any form of disruption to the stream at any point could result in the tape to stop, reverse and start all over again. This is known as “shoe shining” and is responsible for the extreme low speed of tape drives, while restoring data.  It happens because usually there is just not enough data for the drives to keep streaming continuously during a restore operation. Petabyte-scale object storage systems are continuously online with some systems scaling up to 52PB of raw capacity to help meet the storage needs of today, with ample room to grow and scale in the future.

The true cost of the solution is much more than just the cost of the media

A public cloud often depends on the service plan that the customer decides to implement. Plans often have long retrieval times as well as high fees for data retrieval. Companies have also realised that on-premises data storage, by utilizing a private cloud solution, can be very cost efficient. A private cloud delivers data at the speed of the disk and performs efficiently regardless of the amount of data being stored. It also enables data accessibility, analytics, insights and recovery while keeping the costs predictable.

Organizations often overlook the hassles and issues with tape and underestimate the opex costs associated with transporting, storing and managing thousands of physical tapes. Additionally, the costs for storage and retrieval fees, maintenance and other hidden costs related to slower restore times and longer downtimes can make tapes a high cost option.

Modern private cloud object storage solutions can be less expensive than tape, by leveraging advanced technologies like deduplication and helium-sealed disk drives for delivering some of the densest storage systems on earth. These technologies complement each other and combine to provide high capacity and online power efficiency at extremely low costs that can be leveraged by organizations.

Can we finally stop using tape?

The revolution is here and the time to make the shift to object storage based private cloud is now.   A study published by Dresner Advisory Services finds that cloud Business Intelligence adoption is growing significantly and has nearly doubled in 2018 from 25% of enterprise users in 2016. The key segments in 2018 with highest adoption rates are Financial Services, Technology, and Education. Customers will have more powerful, highly reliable and cost-effective solutions, which are ideal for long-term data retention and the ability to respond to data growth and hardware challenges, with flexibility.


FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS: This article may contain forward-looking statements, including statements relating to expectations for storage products, the market for storage products, product development efforts, and the capacities, capabilities and applications of Western Digital products. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements, including development challenges or delays, supply chain and logistics issues, changes in markets, demand, global economic conditions and other risks and uncertainties listed in Western Digital Corporation’s most recent quarterly and annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, to which your attention is directed. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements and we undertake no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

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