Balancing the Past of Legacy Tape With the Future of Disk and Cloud Storage
By Michele Hope
There is a whole new world of options out there when it comes to data protection, disaster recovery and archiving. IT organizations may want to embrace disk and cloud options, but they may still be rooted in the past with a whole lot of legacy tape. How can companies move forward while still being mired in the past?
Tape seems to have gotten a bit of a reputation compared to its newer, faster disk and cloud cousins that are available for backup and recovery.
Despite tape's benefits for long-term retention and its compelling low cost-per-gigabyte economics, the issue persists. Still, petabytes of legacy tape are being maintained by many companies today. To ensure ongoing access to this data, IT organizations often maintain silos of legacy backup software, licenses and legacy tape systems as "just in case" insurance. This is to comply with current and future regulatory requirements or to meet future litigation and eDiscovery needs.
Some IT organizations still favor tape, especially for long-term archiving of large data sets. However, others would rather bet on the disk and cloud camp as the future of archiving. What both camps have in common though is feeling hampered by the cost, space and time needed to manage current technology solutions and legacy tape infrastructure, let alone large quantities of older backup tapes.
How can IT organizations effectively look to the future with new disk and cloud backup technologies, yet still properly maintain their past? Should they continue supporting tape? Decommission their older tape backup systems? Migrate legacy data to newer tape or disk formats or even to the cloud? All of the above? The following are some considerations to take into account when making these decisions:
Pros and Cons of Decommissioning Legacy Tape Systems
As organizations streamline IT operations to more quickly meet business needs, they might like nothing better than to decommission or consolidate legacy or current tape silos. There are compelling arguments for this approach, especially if the organization backs up current data to a disk or the cloud. Such a move could free capital expenditure costs associated with the licensing of legacy software, as well as the maintenance and acquisition of replacement tape system hardware. It could also free up valuable data center space. Further, IT staff previously consumed with tape management would be able to spend their time on more high-value IT projects.
However, issues remain with decommissioning tape and tape systems. What happens to the stacks of old backup tape? If an organization needs access to tape content, how much time and money would be involved in looking for older legacy software and tape hardware, let alone finding the specific data on a specific tapes? Then, there is the issue of IT staff attrition and tight budgets. Maintaining a mix of tape, disk and cloud solutions can be difficult for a budget constrained IT organization. In addition, when tape in older formats is no longer backward-compatible with current versions, how much time could IT staff spend learning the ropes of older systems just to obtain the data required?
Significant, Variable Costs of Tape Discovery and Data Retrieval
The need to find and retrieve data from legacy backup tape is often associated with eDiscovery requests. In this area, past history and average estimates tell a daunting tale. While tape is relatively cheap to buy and store data in large quantities - compared to maintaining the same amount of legacy data on spinning disk - the variable costs of tape can spike quickly when it comes to retrieving certain data from a large volume of legacy tape.
An account by ARMA demonstrates these issues, referencing observations from one court case on backup tapes. The court said "each backup tape may take anywhere from several minutes to five days to restore." Based on this assumption, the source concludes that multiplying this effort by the total number of tapes from just one machine can soon cause costs to spiral.
Mark Karnick, chief information officer at the law firm Glaser Weil, knows something about this issue as well. In a FierceCIO article on the increased role of IT in eDiscovery, Karnick claimed backup tapes "might be the most expensive type of forensic function there is. You have to figure out what's on the tape and then replicate the system that was originally used so you can pull the data off of them."
There is no doubt that tape-based discovery comprises a large part of the variable costs of litigation. One 2014 report published by K&L Gates says the most expensive part of legal preservation is the variable cost involved when employees take time away from other business activities to find data associated with a litigation hold. In the report, William Hubbard, assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, claims that lost employee time can account for "perhaps 90 percent of total costs" of preservation. He estimates the variable cost can range anywhere from $12,000 per year for smaller companies to more than $38 million annually for the largest companies surveyed in the report.
How to Have Your Tape and Read It Too
There are costs involved in keeping tape around for an extended time, but the most significant and least predictable ones are the variable costs. Can organizations still use disk, cloud and tape without getting a nasty surprise on variable tape costs?
One place to look for a solution is the emerging area of subscription-based managed tape and restoration services. For years, companies have relied on third parties to store legacy tape in secure, climate-controlled vaults. For an ongoing fee, secure storage was assured. What has been harder to plan for, however, is the variable cost in retrieving and searching large amounts of stored tape data.
Just as new options have evolved with disk and cloud, new tape management options have also come to market. Here, organizations should look for service providers that combine the manageable costs of offsite tape vaulting with fixed, subscription-based managed restoration services that can define a process workflow specific to the organization's needs. By ensuring a company's older tape data can be restored or migrated at any point using the pre-defined process, these services offer new options for companies that want a more fixed, predictable cost.
Through these types of predictable costs, IT organizations gain restoration assurance for their old tape, while being able to focus on other business initiatives. For further cost savings, options such as decommissioning old equipment, tape remediation or planned data migration can then be revisited. Legacy backup software licenses and infrastructure can be shut down, archival tapes can be stored offsite as long as needed, restoration access is guaranteed, and current and go-forward data can be backed up to disk or the cloud.