Companies large and small are taking a fresh look at their data archives, particularly how to convert them into active archives that deliver business intelligence while simultaneously reducing infrastructure costs. A new approach combines tape-to-NAS, or tNAS, with cloud storage to take advantage of tape’s write speed and local availability, and also the cloud’s cost savings, efficiency, and reliability.
Archival storage has long been the ugly step-sister of information management. You create data archives because you have to, whether to comply with government regulations or as your backup of last resort. About the only time you would need to access an archive is in response to an emergency.
Data archives were perceived as both a time sink for the people who have to create and manage the old data, and as a hardware expense because you have to pay for all those tape drives (usually) or disk drives (occasionally). Throw in the need to maintain a remote location to store the archive and you’ve got a major money hole in your IT department’s budget.
This way of looking at your company’s data archive went out with baggy jeans and flip phones. Today’s active archives bear little resemblance to the dusty racks of tapes tucked into even-dustier closets of some backwater remote facility.
The two primary factors driving the adoption of active archiving are the need to extract useful business intelligence from the archives (thus treating the archive as a valuable resource); and the need to reduce storage costs generally and hardware purchases specifically.
Advances in tape-storage technology, such as Linear Tape Open (LTO) generations 6, 7, and beyond, promise to extend tape’s lifespan, as IT Jungle’s Alex Woodie explains in a September 15, 2014, article. However, companies are increasingly using a mix of tape, disk (solid state and magnetic), and cloud storage to create their active archives.
Tape as a frontend to your cloud-based active archive
Before your company trusts its archive to cloud storage, you have to consider worst-case scenarios: What if you can’t access your data? What if uploads and downloads are too slow? What if the storage provider goes out of business or otherwise places your data at risk?
To address these and other possibilities, Simon Watkins of the Active Archive Alliance proposes using tape-to-NAS (tNAS) as a frontend to a cloud-based active archive. In a December 1, 2014, article on the Alliance’s blog, Watkins describes a tape-library tNAS that runs NAS gateway software and stores data in the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) format.
The tNAS approach addresses bandwidth congestion by configuring the cloud as a tNAS tier: data is written quicker to tape, and subsequently transferred to the cloud archive when bandwidth is available. Similarly, you always have an up-to-date copy of your data to use should the cloud archive become unavailable for any reason. This also facilitates transferring your archive to another cloud service.
A white paper published by HP in October 2014 presents a tNAS architecture that is able to replicate the archive concurrently to both tape and cloud storage. The simultaneous cloud/tape replication can be configured as a mirror or as tiers.
To mirror the tape and cloud replication, place both the cloud and tape volumes behind the cache, designating one primary and the other secondary. Data is sent from the cache to both volumes either at a threshold you set or when the cache becomes full.
Tape-cloud tiering takes advantage of tape’s fast write speeds and is best when performance is paramount. In this model, tape is always the primary archive, and users are denied access to the cloud archive.
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