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The New Arguments for Using Removable Disk in Lieu of Tape for SME Archiving Requirements

Continuing (dare I say exploding?) data growth in small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) is forcing these size organizations to confront an issue that was primarily confined to larger organizations: data archiving. Chief among these issues, the question as to what media to store archival data on is one that needs to be answered. While many may assume that tape is best positioned to assume this role, there is a growing body of evidence that disk may be the most appropriate media for SMEs to use when archiving their data.

Every size organization is grappling with growing data stores and SMEs are certainly not exempt from that. As this occurs, they are finding that while they need more storage capacity for their primary data, they may need far greater amounts of storage capacity to store and retain their archival copies of data.

Historically, this role of storing archive data has fallen to tape because of certain properties that it possesses. But what SMEs may fail to realize is that removable disk media now possesses many of the same properties as tape. As such, it may now actually be a better choice than tape for storing archival data.

Consider the reasons that are typically cited for using tape and how removable disk now matches up.

  • Economical. On a cost per GB basis, tape used to have disk beat hands down, often by a factor of 10:1. But that gap had dropped precipitously in recent years, down to the point where the price per GB of removable disk is only 2 or 3x more expensive than tape for the same amount of capacity. However, removable disk may be more cost effective than tape. Even though their data is growing, SMEs typically only have hundreds of GBs of data to archive, not terabytes. Removable disk gives them the flexibility to buy disks that are smaller in capacity and matches their specific storage requirements which can make it more affordable than tape. Advantage: Disk.
  • Power and space efficient. Using tape to store data offline is both power and space efficient as a tape cartridge uses no electricity and consumes only minimal space. However, removable disk now has these same properties since it does not need to be powered on all of the time.  Advantage: Draw.
  • Portable. It used to be that tape was just about the only option for SMEs to use to move large amounts of data for offsite protection and disaster recovery. However, removable disk provides this same flexibility and actually one-ups tape. Archived data may either first need to be restored from tape to disk in order to retrieve it or it can take a long time to access the archived data on tape. Using removable disk, data retrieval is almost as fast as if it were on production storage. Advantage: Disk.
  • Durability. Drop it. Kick it. Move it. Write to it. Read to it. Today’s tape cartridges take a licking and keep on ticking. Except that today’s removable disk cartridges (RDX media specifically) has the same properties and even best tape when it comes to the total number of reads and writes. Advantage: Disk.
  • Infinite capacity.  If a tape cartridge fills up, no problem. Just insert a new blank one in its place. Except that with removable disk you can now do the same thing so tape can no longer exclusively claim this feature. Advantage: Draw.

Removable disk also provides at least one feature that tape does not offer: forward and backward compatibility. An issue that SMEs encounter when using tape is that when new, larger capacity tape cartridges are released, to take advantage of them they first have to upgrade their tape drive(s). However, upgrading their tape drive negates their ability to use their older tape cartridges since tape drives can only write to the current and the prior generation of tape cartridges.

Removable disk has no such limitations. It can read and write to any prior or future generation of disk drive since it offers a standard interface. This makes it more practical and even easier to manage than tape, especially when it comes to more quickly accessing, searching and retrieving archival data.

E-discovery and search are two other arguments for using disk instead of tape. Should an SME be subject to an e-discovery, their archived data will likely need to be accessed, indexed and searched, which will then lead to the retrieval of individual email messages or files. Since these are typically stored throughout the archival data store and not in just one location, this calls for random access to the data which plays to disk’s strengths, not tape.

These arguments for removable disk have now become so strong that tape’s last and best argument for use is its longevity as it is rated to last up to 30 years. But even in this respect SMEs need to ask the question, “What archival data do I need to retain for 30 years?”

Most regulations to which SMEs are subject only require that they keep data for three to seven years. In this regards, removable disks now have 5 year warranties so they are usable for at least that period of time and the data on them is in all likelihood good for a couple of years after that. Further, because removable disk is forward and backward compatible, it is a relatively simple task to copy data from an older disk to a newer one if a longer retention period is required.

So a better question for SMEs to ask is, “What is the best way to implement removable disk in my environment so I can best take advantage of the benefits that it has to offer?” In this respect, SMEs should look to solutions such as what Revinetix offers as it combines the best of what both fixed and removable disk solutions have to offer.

Revinetix offers fixed disk for daily backups and short term archival requirements (~1 – 12 months in duration, depending on amount of data and business requirements.) However, it also supports the use of removable disk technology so SMEs can keep archival data in a near line or offline state to meet their internal or external retention requirements.

What makes the union of Revinetix and removable disk based technology particularly appealing is two-fold.

First, should an SME have to quickly respond to an e-discovery request, they can optionally attach removable disks to another Revinetix system. This frees the primary system to do the daily backups, backups and ongoing archival of data while enabling them to dedicate a second system to do data retrievals or e-discovery searches.

Second, disaster recoveries get a lot easier and more predictable as well. Using removable disk means SMEs always have the right generation of technology at both the production and DR site so they can be confident they can recover. Further, removable disk opens up the possibility that SMEs can recover the application directly from it which may eliminate the need to have a separate storage solution at the DR site. SMEs could never do that with tape.

Tape is still a logical and cost-effective medium to archiving but its use cases are increasingly reserved for large enterprises. What SMEs will likely find is that new removable disk technology gives them all of the benefits that they associate with tape while preserving the benefits that disk affords. By using solutions such as what Revinetix offers, they can fold both fixed and removable disk technology into their environment and seamlessly manage them both.


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