To many enterprise organizations, the question of whether or not they will store backup data in a cloud is already a foregone conclusion: it will be stored there. But that does not mean they should abandon tape in their new cloud-centered environment. Practical use cases for tape abound since tape enables enterprises to keep a firm, long-term grip on data that they temporarily or permanently store in the cloud.
It is clear that tape’s role in data protection has changed. The declining cost of disk coupled with the availability of multiple service providers that offer cloud-based backup services has made it both practical and affordable for almost any size enterprise to use a cloud-based backup solution.
But as enterprises transition to the cloud, the question they are bound to ask is, “What role, if any, should tape have now that we are storing our data in a cloud?” Answering that question requires understanding some of the shortcomings of using a cloud as a primary target for backup data, as well as differentiating between the needs of short-term primary backups and long-term archival storage.
Here are concerns that enterprises looking to use the cloud as a backup and recovery target should be prepared to answer:
- Backing up the first copy of data to the cloud. A first backup is almost always a full backup and that can take a long time to complete if sending a large amount of data over a WAN connection.
- Recovering data from the cloud. Recovering large amounts of data from the cloud can be just as tedious. While recovering some files, a few directories or maybe even an entire server may not be a problem, recovering multiple servers or an entire site over a WAN link will take some time.
- Meeting compliance requirements. Storing data to the cloud means that enterprises give up some level of control of their data to include possibly not knowing where exactly their data is stored, how it is being handled, who has access to it and how secure it is.
- The cloud does not absolve enterprises of their data management responsibilities. Just because data is stored in the cloud does not mean it is forever secure and accessible. Cloud providers can lose data or even go out of business. But for financial and healthcare organizations that need to keep data seven years, ten years or even longer, that does not absolve them of their responsibility to produce that data even if their cloud provider is no longer in business or mishandles the data.
While a lot of questions about cloud-based storage remain, one thing is for sure… tape is well positioned to address these concerns that organizations have about adopting the cloud as their primary or sole storage medium. For instance any time a large amount of data needs to be moved either for backup or recovery, data may be first copied to tape and then the tape taken to the site where the data will be recovered.
In the case of doing an initial first full backup of all data to the cloud, it may be more economical and faster to backup all this data to tape, send that tape to the cloud provider and then only backup incremental over the WAN to the cloud after that. Conversely, if a large restore needs to occur quickly, first restoring data to tape, sending the tape to the client site and then using the tape as the source to restore the application may again be faster than trying to send all of the data over the WAN to the client site.
In terms of meeting compliance requirements, tape still has the features of immutability and longevity on its side. So by storing data that is subject to compliance requirements on tape and then keeping that tape copy in a secure location, enterprises have the assurance that they can economically store the data that they are required to keep and can produce it whenever to satisfy any specific regulations to which they are subject.
The cloud may be the future of data storage for many organizations but that does not mean that the role of tape has disappeared. Instead tape is finding for itself a new and better role within enterprises that it is better suited to satisfy: complementing disk-based storage technologies.
By enterprises leveraging tape in this new role that takes advantage of tape’s economy, immutability, longevity and power savings, enterprises are able to realize the best of both of what the cloud and tape have to offer while keeping a firm grip on the integrity and security of their data.