Magazine Article | January 1, 2003

The Value is in the Data and on Your Tape

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Increasing data storage tape capacities are making it necessary for manufacturers to prepare for the future.

Integrated Solutions, January 2003

The value is in the data. Every executive intuitively knows that his or her business runs on critical information from customer files to internal financial records. Increasing scrutiny of data protection, record retention and business continuity planning have put the spotlight on mass storage. How can a robust storage architecture integrate disparate elements including high availability, backup/restore, TCO, reliability and disaster recovery? The answer includes an element of removable media: data storage tape.

Tape Has Come A Long Way
Data tape technologies have been around for half of a century, providing storage solutions to meet customer needs for backup, restore and archiving. Over that same five decades tape capacity has grown to keep pace with capacity demands. Capacities have grown at an incredible rate, nearly doubling about every 24 months on average. For example, in the high-end data center application, storage capacity per cartridge has advanced from 10GB in 1995 to 200GB in 2002. Looking forward, we see technology roadmaps from several drive and media manufacturers involving capacities of one terabyte or more on a single tape cartridge. Each supplier has it's own roadmap to reach those capacities in the future.

While new tape drive technologies tend to command attention, few users consider the importance of the technologies behind tape cartridges and tape media itself. Tape media and cartridges have changed dramatically over the years because new innovations in tape technology require advances in media and cartridges as well as in drives themselves. The selection of media continues to be a critical part of the overall storage equation.

Keep Data Protected
Why is tape so important? The answer to that is simple; the tape media is where information lives. The tape roadmap shows that significant improvements will continue to be made across virtually every physical parameter of tape, from the thickness of substrate and magnetic layers, size and density of magnetic particles, surface smoothness, track width and number of data tracks, to the length and speed of the tape within a cartridge. This broad improvement delivers continually increasing capacity, and therefore more data on a single tape cartridge. Each cartridge is a critical component of the mass storage system.

Consider a typical backup and restore environment with a six-week retention period on a backup set, the tape drive may be used for a couple of hours during the actual backup, while the tape cartridge sits in a library slot or at an archival site. So when you look at the full lifecycle of that backup, the data is located on that cartridge for more than 1,000 hours, but spends only a couple of those hours physically in the tape drive. Over a one-year period the data spends over 8,000 hours in the tape cartridge. The drive must write and read that data accurately, but the media must safely store and protect that data over a long period of time and over many recurring lifecycles.

New SEC regulations and internal policies require corporations to retain data, from accounting records to e-mails, longer than ever. That means data will remain on tape for even longer periods of time and the media needs to be dependable throughout that time span.

Moving Tape Into The Future
Advanced technologies are becoming even more important as capacities increase. One example of this is servo writing, which enables precise data reading/writing. Tape backcoating formulations will have to contain features such as texture, compressibility and static reduction, to reduce wound-in debris and tape layer slippage and protect servo and data tracks.

Internal cartridge components must be extremely precise. For some products drive mechanics are moving into the cartridge so the tape media never leaves this space. Meticulous cartridge component design and construction provide characteristics such as debris isolation and zero friction bearings.

The "pipe" is now much faster to the physical drive. Tape drives in the open systems mid-range space are now supporting Fibre Channel interfaces, with channel speeds of up to 2 Gb/sec. The ever-thinner tape media has to move through the drive at incredible speeds to support the increased throughput. The cartridge needs to ensure that the tape stays perfectly aligned every single time at these speeds without stretching or breaking.

Your data storage media matters today more than ever. Users can help themselves and their organizations by understanding that there is as much technology in the tape media as in any other component of their storage architecture. Drives and media must work together dependably to provide a usable solution. Users should expect and require their media supplier to deliver quality, reliability, capacity and affordability both today and into the future.