Cyber security concerns won't revive tape storage

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Cyber security concerns won't revive tape storage
Does it make you want to turn to tape?

One month renaissance already cut short.

Tape storage experts have raised significant doubt over an apparent resurgence in tape led by enterprises worried that cloud-based alternatives can be too easily hacked.

The tape renaissance was raised by the Wall Street Journal last month, which quoted unnamed “security experts” arguing that tape could be the answer to cyber security concerns around storage.

Recovery Point Systems founder Marc Langer told WSJ that tape could be a “safe choice” for some storage because it was “inconvenient” to access. “Good security is almost always inconvenient,” he said.

But Guy Holmes, founder and CEO of Perth-based Tape Ark, branded the “concept that writing your data to tape is more secure [as a] kind of falsehood”.

Tape Ark’s business revolves around converting old physical tape libraries to virtual tapes hosted in AWS.

Its customers include large resources companies, one of which converted 180,000 physical tapes and now hosts that data in either AWS Glacier or S3 (depending on how frequently it wants to access the data).

While data stored on tape “is much harder to hack if you like”, the possibility of a tape being stolen or damaged left the potential for a greater amount of data to be exposed, Holmes said.

Data on tape could also could not be accessed quickly, and required high costs to store the physical tapes as well as maintain equipment and software to read them, Holmes argued.

“Ten years ago when you bought a tape drive and wrote a tape you planned to keep that tape drive for 5-6 years,” he said.

“Now, the speed with which people are releasing new technology, new speeds and new capacities, means your tape drive is now redundant after 2.5-3 years. You may not be able to read the tape you created two years ago.

“What we’re creating is this massive collection of inaccessible data - sure it’s protected from hackers, but it’s also protected from your own use.”

Arun Chandrasekaran, a Gartner Research vice president specialising in “infrastructure agility” using storage and cloud, was equally dismissive of tape as a cyber security mitigation strategy.

“I haven’t heard cyber security and tape being spoken [about by customers] in the same sentence,” Chandrasekaran said.

“In our opinion the use of tape as a backup repository is declining because the recovery time and recovery point objectives (RTO/RPO) are getting more and more stringent for business critical applications, which means tape may not be right fit.

“We’re seeing a shift from tape to disk-based appliances when it comes to backup requirements.

“However for archiving you can make an argument that tape is cheap and still a means to store archival data for some customers.”

Most people spoken to by iTnews, however, believed tape was ultimately a declining market.

Storing tape takes a large amount of space; if an organisation doesn’t have it (or wants to use off-site storage), the costs can run to “between 60c and $1 per tape per month to physically store them”, compared to a fraction of a cent per gigabyte to host them in low-cost cloud storage, Tape Ark’s Holmes said.

“We’re virtualising the tapes and tape drives so people can get rid of their legacy equipment,” he said.

“It is not an insubstantial cost to have 2-3 generations of tape drives in your data centre with a person who knows how to run them and the old software and licensing.

“[Under a virtual model], if a customer want to restore a tape from eight years ago they can go online, fire up the virtual tape drive, load the virtual tape into it and restore from it.”

Paul Haverfield, HPE’s data centre and hybrid cloud group chief technologist for APJ, said that while tape remained “very healthy [in terms of] drive mechanisms, automation technology and the actual media itself”, it was a “slow, long-tail declining business”.

“Tape has its own costs,” Haverfield said.

“If you’re still using tape for long-term retention, it has environmental requirements - low humidity, stable temperature - and it consumes physical real estate space somewhere.

“That’s where if you replace that use case for tape with a cloud storage service that’s cost efficient for retention and ingress of data, [cloud] becomes a very viable solution tape replacement.

“Particularly if you have one copy in AWS and one in Azure you’ve really covered your bases in terms of physical separation and multiple copies.”

Tape Ark has found its customers often find bigger value from shifting off physical tape. Storing the data in the cloud makes it more accessible, and Holmes said his customers now used those stores as the foundation for big data analytics projects.

Customers could use machine learning or AI on years of historical data to generate insights and greater return on investment on tape virtualisation projects.

“I think that’s where we add the most value is to get it into a state where people can touch it and use it as opposed to being dead just-in-case type data,” he said.

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