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Tape – the sustainable option for modern data storage and archiving needs

Tape – the sustainable option for modern data storage and archiving needs

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Eric Bassier, Senior Director of Products, Quantum, considers the many benefits of using tape storage – in particular its significant contribution to delivering more efficient, affordable and greener IT solutions.

As the growth in digital data storage continues to move at an unrelenting rate, there is increasing concern over the environmental impact modern infrastructure is having. In particular Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) considerations have become a major topic for organisations faced with the challenge of ensuring data centres are more sustainable without impacting that all important performance and availability.

To balance these increasingly contradictory objectives, IT teams are turning to tape storage. Used for decades as a reliable and affordable solution, its environmental and sustainability credentials are now also providing a greener alternative to disk-based solutions.

Among the key use cases for tape is long-term storage. As more data is retained for compliance or business reasons, the problem is that this information may not be accessed again for years, if ever. Using hard disks storage solutions geared towards the constant availability of data is far from efficient, but the challenge is to replace these systems with storage architecture that enables effective management of data over longer life cycles for a wider variety of workloads – at a higher level of sustainability.

A powerful argument

Historically, one of the leading benefits of tape storage has always been its lower acquisition costs, and per gigabyte, for instance, the cost of tape hardware is about half that of disk-based solutions. Add to that the lower power consumption and heat generation levels of tape storage and the arguments in favour of switching to tape across a wider range of use cases become even more compelling.

In practical terms, tape libraries consume very little to no energy unless data is being read or written, with almost no heat dissipation or cooling requirements as a result. This can deliver significant savings in electricity used for data centre operation, particularly given the large size of many modern facilities. This kind of efficiency can also have a direct impact on an organisation’s CO2 emission levels, particularly if their infrastructure is powered by fossil fuel electricity generation.

The potential power-saving benefits don’t end there. Aside from computing power, data storage is one of the most power-hungry elements in the modern data centre environment. In a modelled production environment, for example, one study found that migrating data that is less active from disk drives to tape drives could achieve an 85% reduction in CO2 emissions resulting from running approximately 500 TB of less active data on tape versus HDD over a 12-month period. While this number might be on the upper end of potential CO2 reductions, it does underline the significant potential for tape to help deliver a meaningful impact on emissions.

Waste and pollution

In addition to reducing electricity consumption – and by extension, lowering CO2-emissions – tape storage also has a lower overall impact on the environment than disk-based systems based on the levels of waste created over the lifespan of the technologies. For example, magnetic tape storage has a much longer lifespan than most hard disk drives. Hosted in an environment with stable humidity and temperature sensibly controlled, tape will last anything between 10-20 years, depending on usage levels. In contrast, most hard disk drives in use today will only last three-to-five years, not least because disks rely on many more moving parts that are liable to wear out and fail over time.

As a result, disk arrays are typically refreshed over a three-to-five-year refresh cycle, as opposed to tape libraries where the process can easily exceed a decade or more. The environmental benefit is that organisations can achieve anything up to a two-thirds reduction in disposal requirements by using tape drives instead of disk drives. On top of that, using tape storage also reduces e-waste, such as that derived from circuit boards, which can often contain highly polluting components.

For those organisations focused on balancing storage infrastructure performance against their environmental responsibilities, tape can play a significant part in delivering more efficient, affordable and greener IT solutions. By implementing tape as a storage tier in their production environments and replacing spinning HDDs with tape media for the less active data, there is scope to save significant sums on energy consumption, while also reducing CO2 emissions and disposal costs. As a technology unrivalled in its longevity, cost to capacity, reliability, portability and security, tape continues to play a crucial role in data protection and archive solutions. Looking to the future, this role seems certain to increase even further as organisations look for a performance and environmental win-win.

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