Should We Ditch Tape?

Think about the workplace of the early 2000s; if the email server went down, there was a good chance that you were still able to perform business-critical tasks while waiting for service to be resumed. Yet consider the same scenario today – the lack of access to emails would make most businesses come to a standstill.

Today’s IT leaders are under increasing pressure to deliver to strict service level agreements and ensure employees do not end up sitting around aimlessly because IT has let them down and prevented them from doing their job. This has provided the impetus for continuous service availability, which has not only put recovery back on the agenda, but has also driven the transition from tape-based to disk-based data protection strategies.

Organisations are generating more data today than ever before. An increasing proportion of this data is being classed as mission-critical, with analyst reports estimating this to be as much as 50 percent. According to a recent report from the analyst firm ESG, when it comes to mission-critical data, 53 percent of organisations can tolerate one hour or less of downtime before experiencing a significant revenue loss or other adverse business impact.

As organisations transitioned towards a digital way of doing business, many became more dependent on the ability to access and manage data. This consequently shrunk the recovery window and recovery time objectives (RTOs) became increasingly more aggressive. The data protection paradigm is therefore no longer about recovering data per se, but more about resuming operations. Whilst tape has traditionally served the need for data recovery well, it is not as effective when IT departments need to restore data, critical applications, databases and end-users.

Such pressures to restore data quickly and efficiently have driven IT departments to increasingly adopt disk-based back-up strategies, much to the expense of tape. Disk has proven that it is a medium which is readily accessible, as opposed to tape drives which only serve one restore request at a time which is no longer good enough for organisations operating in a real-time economy.

However, we have recently seen organisations take this a step further, complementing their data protection strategies with snapshot and replication technologies. For instance, we are now seeing multi-national organisations utilising disk-to-disk protection with applications over Wide Area Networks. Furthermore, the proliferation of cloud services has also led to disk-to-disk-to-cloud backup strategies becoming more prevalent, as businesses look at augmenting their on-premise data protection programmes with an additional off-site protection strategy.

With the need for operational recovery clearly evident, organisations need to start thinking about a non-linear approach to recovering critical applications and databases. The traditional back-up and recovery model has always dictated that data is recovered, applications are re-hosted, and then users reconnected. Modern continuous data protection techniques allow organisations to simultaneously do this.

Despite its history and limitations, the dark brown reels of tape can still play an important role within an organisation’s data protection strategy. Although 50 percent of data is classed as mission critical, this still leaves 50 percent of static data which needs to be protected and retained – even for organisations that do not need to adhere to strict compliance measures.

Tape bridges this requirement offering a low-cost, high capacity option and enables organisations to adopt disk-to-disk-to-tape approaches. This has proven particularly effective in augmenting specialised backups such as those from virtual environments by providing an additional layer of protection should primary and secondary storage systems become unavailable or corrupted.

Clearly there is still a place for tape due to the ever increasing need for holistic recovery capabilities. However, this alone is by no means a panacea for data protection strategies. The need for continuous data protection has driven the move towards disk. Similarly, IT leaders can, by assessing an organisation’s top-level needs, very quickly find the right data protection strategies and storage mix.

Richard Moseley is Dell Software’s Vice-President for Europe and Asia Pacific for Data Protection. Moseley has a successful track record in the development of International operations and senior management leadership for Independent Software Vendors, established through 25 years in the software industry.

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