Cloud or Tape for Long-Term Data Storage? It's Not that Simple

December 11, 2017 Wayne Mortenson Tape vs. Cloud, Long-term Retention 0 Comments

If all you need is to store massive amounts of data cheaply – and rarely must search or restore – then either tape or cold cloud storage will do for long-term data retention. But these days, even old data is subject to user demand, business analysis, investigations, eDiscovery searches, and the GDPR's right to be forgotten. Any alternative that “will do” isn’t nearly doing enough.

Tape or Cloud?

Let’s look at the basics of storing aging data in tape and cloud.

When it comes to long-term data retention, tape and cold cloud storage invariably pop up as the best alternatives. Both are more economical than disk storage for long-term data retention; beyond that they have their own advantages and disadvantages.


Tape libraries are expensive to buy and scale. But if IT amortizes storage expenses relative to capacity, within a few years tape becomes less expensive than the same amount of disk-based capacity. IT also saves money and increases library capacity by cycling cartridges off-site. Remote vaulting costs are low, IT complies with retention requirements, and cyberattacks are non-existent. And portable media has another advantage: it’s perfectly possible to ship massive volumes of data to any place in the world within a day. Try doing this online by uploading 500TB of data in 24 hours. (You can’t.)

There are however some serious disadvantages with tape. Tape may be more economical than cloud storage over the long run, but even starting level tape libraries aren’t cheap to buy or operate.

Then there is the major problem of searching backup tape for compliance or eDiscovery. (Even archival is an issue if thousands of tapes are stored off-site.)

Many companies turn over large-scale search projects to outside services, but it costs them. Large enterprises that receive an eDiscovery demand to search years’ worth of email from multiple custodians can attest to the true costs of tape. We have seen numerous cases in the past decade where organizations have ended up spending more than $1 million to a tape restoration provider to take thousands of backup tapes and restore them into a searchable archive. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you their tape backups are their approach to archiving.

The Cloud Rolls In

Basic cold cloud storage also has advantages. Inexpensive cold storage tiers are more economical than buying and scaling sufficient disk-based storage for aging data. And unlike tape library purchases, a cloud service can start at a very low price if it is pay-as-you-grow.

Although cybersecurity is more of an issue than off-site tape, encryption, strong authentication, and whitelisting IPs in single tenancy architectures guard against most intrusion attempts. It is also far easier to search and restore from an online data store than a tape vault.

But like tape, it’s not a perfect picture. With cloud, you need to think about network bandwidth issues and the time and cost of uploads and restores. And although tape costs more at the outset, cost-per-GB drops with tape as it spreads over a bigger volume of data. In the cloud, that inexpensive beginning will grow as businesses store more and more data online.

Adding Real Value to Long-Term Data

Long-term retention has typically been synonymous with cold/offline storage and tape has been the ideal media.

While tape advocates and tape vendors today will point to the unmatched storage economics one can achieve with tape, I think organizations are now hungry for more than just cheap storage. There is a business need for intelligent data management and fast, hassle-free access.

The approach to long-term retention is changing with the cloud.

Cloud-based cold storage with intelligent storage software such as HubStor drives the same base benefits of low-cost and high-security as tape, but it revolutionizes data management because it is an intelligent secondary storage layer.

Here is why organizations are rethinking tape and shifting to the cloud for their long-term retention:

  • Convenience. Cloud storage uses native disk formats with granular blob-level controls, so businesses do not need to keep copies of old software on hand. The architecture supports data retention schedules and data management; and safely stores files, email, SharePoint, event logs, and machine-generated data.
  • Security. The cold blobs offer tamper-proof WORM storage and litigation holds for compliance and eDiscovery. Data is encrypted in motion and at rest, and HubStor fully integrates with Azure Active Directory.
  • Efficiency. Deep archiving in the cloud lets you easily search and restore archived data on demand; an impossible task with off-line tape. Built-in data classification and search supports eDiscovery, compliance, audits, and investigations. Storage cost attribution, file analytics, and activity auditing lets you manage storage spend. Intelligent cloud services can also be applied on demand, such as OCR indexing and machine-generated transcription of audio and video content for in-place early case assessment.
  • Built-in data protection. Cloud storage is redundant and self-healing, and Azure offers geo-redundancy options for even stronger data protection. Inline deduplication, compression, redundancy, and self-healing keeps online data readily available while data governance and data loss prevention are always on. HubStor can additionally create shadow copies as a failsafe backup copy.
  • The future is here: Hybrid cloud data management. HubStor policy-based tiering and cloud enablement supports Windows, CIFS, and NFS-based storage. Our customers are finding they can run lean and mean on-premises infrastructures by using HubStor as an automatic release valve for the aging data on primary storage. They can offload data without disrupting users or applications to streamline their existing backup processes. Meanwhile, in the cloud, HubStor serves as a forever incremental that converges data protection, active archiving, and long-term retention.

Given these benefits, we think it makes sense to replace tape libraries with an intelligent secondary storage layer that is cloud based. The trick, of course, is to find the right cloud storage solution that you are happy with for long-term data retention.

I recommend considering HubStor for converged long-term retention, active archiving, and data protection on the Azure cloud platform because it delivers and does not lock you in.

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