The Debate: Tape Versus Disk

Unlike their larger counterparts, SMBs do not have access to the same IT resources and yet like any business, they still need to manage their own data and abide to regulatory compliance. Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are faced with two major challenges: cost and storage scalability.

If an SMB handles customers’ personal data or payment details and fails to comply with statutory regulations, such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and PCI DSS, they could potentially experience irreversible reputational damage and loss of revenue. The associated fines could even ruin their business.

With the need to be able to retrieve and relay this information under inspection, SMBs need to be able to store and back up regularly. For SMBs the backing up of their data has been, and will continue to be, a major priority.

Data is one of, if not the most valuable asset of any business and therefore its backup is one of the most important business decisions SMBs make. As a result, SMBs are investing more time in finding the right physical back-up solution to suit their specific needs.

Before making any storage decisions, SMBs need to fully understand what data they are storing and for what purpose. In turn, they will then need to carefully consider how quickly they will be able to retrieve and relay this data.

The debate: tape versus disk

The debate is not simply disk versus tape anymore. It is a question of what is the right way to manage business data to ensure it is backed up regularly, the duplication of data is kept offsite and that any retained data is compliant and secure. Tiered storage is one way of ensuring all these factors are met whilst remaining cost effective.

As data is stored differently depending on what it is, the types of storage can differ too. In that context nearline, offline, and offsite storage might be on a mix of disk, RDX drives, and tape, depending on the data access, recovery, and compliance needs of the business.

The benefits of tape

Tape has been used to back-up important data since the 1950’s. Since then, the backup tape has significantly evolved. It is smaller, can hold more information and has become a popular and cost effective storage option. SMBs that have traditionally used tape storage are inclined to stick with it, especially to avoid incurring additional costs.

For deep archiving purposes, tape is a viable and practical option. It is cheap, can be stored safely and it is easy to manage. SMBs that have significant volumes of data, which they may not necessarily need to access rapidly, could benefit significantly from using tape. It stores data in a linear fashion, which means that when searching for something specific, the tape runs from the beginning until the data has been located.

Tape storage provides the optimal solution for offsite storage. This storage tier ensures business data is securely stored offsite, and protected against physical disasters including flood, fire and burglary.

Nearline storage represents an intermediary between online storage, which enables rapid data access, and offline storage, which is more affordable but requires more time for data access. Nearline storage can take the form of a combination of tape and disk.

The benefits of disk

Since the mid 1990’s, disk back-up started to gain notable popularity. Since then it has become more affordable and therefore a popular choice of back-up for SMBs, who need to be able to access their data quickly. Disk is very easy to use, but it also has an intuitive interface, rapid backup and recovery functionality.

As regulatory demands will require SMBs to retrieve data immediately, whereby they may be subject to random auditing checks – they will need to be able to access their data at the drop of a hat. Although tape is a more cost effective solution than disk, disk enables SMBs to access their valuable information immediately.

Disk storage is best suited to online and nearline storage tiers. The online storage tier backs up data to a storage technology within a company’s onsite data centre. Nearline storage, on the other hand, represents an intermediary between online storage, which enables rapid data access, and offline storage.

Disk storage is also a reliable backup solution, which will last for years. Other benefits include; data duplication technology; ruggedised cartridge; forward and backward compatibility.

The future

Both tape and disk will continue to be popular options for SMBs, depending on their storage requirements. However there are now third party solutions, which have evolved storage solutions to address the shortcomings of both fixed hard disk drives and tape while preserving the benefits of both.

  • SMBs can now have infinite capacity – There are products on the market that let hard disk cartridges be exchanged and transported as has been done with tape over the years. These products give tape the property of “infinite capacity.” Whilst having a hard disk drive inside of the tape cartridge, but being configured as a removable cartridge, it can be safely inserted and removed from a docking station in the same way that tape cartridges are inserted and removed from tape drives.
  • SMBs can now have data portability – The ease of moving and shipping individual tape cartridges from one location to another has always been another of tape’s strengths. RDX drives afford the same flexibility to move data on hard disk drives from one location to another. In addition, carrying cases specifically designed to house these cartridges facilitate the safe and secure transport of multiple cartridges at the same time.
  • SMBs now have security – SMBs not only need to ensure their customers’ data is easily retrievable, they must also ensure that it is secure and cannot be taken by a cybercriminal for malicious intent of financial reward. SMBs can have their combined disk and tape storage solution encrypted to help better protect the data contained within the cartridge.

It is important for businesses to understand the type of data they have and how retrievable it needs to be for compliance purposes and therefore one solution cannot be considered better than the other. Rather than businesses looking for the best price value for either tape versus disks, businesses need to look at which is more suitable for them and could save their business in the longer term. Understanding the different storage options is the first step so that the right storage solution decision can be made.

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Luc Gheysens joined Imation with nearly 30 years in the data storage industry and a successful track record managing growth businesses. Luc joined Imation from Oracle/Sun Microsystems, where he was Senior Director of Storage Sales in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Prior to Oracle, Luc held senior leadership positions with NextiraOne, Software AG, Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products. Luc began his technology career at IBM, where over 15 years, he held roles of increasing responsibility, including manager of the Personal Systems Group in Belgium & Luxemburg. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Mons.