After the recent release of the LTO-9 (Linear Tape-Open 9) standard, tape drives offering faster speeds and increased capacities are expected to soon appear on the market. But should users of these devices rush to upgrade? Here are the advantages and disadvantages to appreciate the need for it.
Tape drives offer a very reliable solution for writing data to storage media and they are also very effective at retaining data for decades. They are an excellent medium for long-term storage and for shipping large amounts of data over long distances (no band limits for road transport). What tape drives can’t do is run slowly. The compressed mode transfer speed of an LTO-8 standard tape drive is 900 MB/s, significantly faster than most backups it will receive. This is much faster than any incremental backup that will be sent to it, which is the case with most backups. This is also a problem if one wants to use the tapes as the initial target for backups, except to copy one’s backups for off-site use, because the disk backup system can serve as a cache for the drive of tapes, which should keep it running at a decent pace during the copying process. On the other hand, today, it is practically impossible to design a good backup system that sends incremental backups directly to tape across the network.
Should I upgrade or not?
There are three reasons for upgrading your tape drive:
1- One of your tasks regularly uses large amounts of tape: upgrading to a faster tape drive would increase the speed of this process. For example, it may be interesting for a film producer using cameras that produce petabytes of data per day to create multiple copies and send them to several post-production companies. Copying 1 petabyte to tape takes 22 hours in LTO-7, and LTO-9 can cut that time about half. (The three companies behind the standard have not yet specified the speed of the specification, but it should be around 1200-1400 MB/s). If the difference between 10 p.m. and 11 a.m. changes your business, then definitely switch to LTO-9.
2- The LTO-9 standard increases capacity by 50% compared to LTO-8 and by 200% compared to LTO-7. If you currently pay for your tapes to be shipped or stored in a safe by unit, this gain may represent a financial argument to switch to the LTO-9 standard and you will be able to copy all your existing tapes to tapes more newer and larger. You could significantly reduce your monthly costs by using LTO-8 tapes and reduce those costs even more if you use LTO-7 tapes.
3 – The third and final good reason to upgrade is that your current tape drives are so old that you can no longer receive services for these devices or, due to their age, the contracts of service are prohibitive. Replacing your old tape drives with newer LTO-9 drives might cost less than maintaining a service contract on older tape drives.
Upgrading your tape drives is not without risk. The first risk only applies if you continue to send very slow backups directly to tape without caching them with a target disk before copying them to tape. In this case, upgrading your tape drive may make the problem worse. If a 900MB/s tape drive is already too powerful for your setup, upgrading to a 1200-1400MB/s tape drive will make the situation worse. The LTO standards are read-compatible with two previous generations, and write-compatible with a previous generation. This means that LTO-9 drives will be able to read tapes from LTO-7 and LTO-8 drives, but not beyond. If you have older drives, you will be forced to do one of two things: either keep some of your old tape drives or transfer all your old tapes to newer tapes. If you’re considering upgrading your drives because your current tape drives are too old and unusable, the first option isn’t really possible. Unless you keep them just in case and no longer pay for a service contract.
The second option is more likely, and a good backup or archive product should be able to help you consolidate all your old backup tapes onto newer tapes. This will also be necessary if you plan to upgrade to lower the monthly cost of your tape storage. Be aware that although tape drives are very efficient at writing data, such a process is never without risk. One bad bit out of 1019 bits is always detrimental, so be aware that this type of error exists and incorporate it into your process. You also have the option of consolidating all old tapes onto newer tapes, and storing old tapes safely somewhere, in case one of the copies fails. You can also create two copies on newer tapes, because the chances of error in the same place during the two copies are 1019X1019.
Risks of not upgrading
There are also risks associated with not upgrading, the most significant being the lifespan of current tape drives. Are the tape drives of the model you are using still available? If so, the chances of not upgrading your system at this point are relatively low. Even if you can no longer buy new tape drives of the model you’re using now, you can probably have the ones you own overhauled. As long as your current tape drives are repairable with parts and technicians who know how to service them, there shouldn’t be too much risk in keeping them. But remember that the cost of the service contract may be too high.
Compare benefits and risks
The most important point is that people often upgrade their tape drives because they think buying faster tape drives will speed up their backup or archive system. But that’s not a good reason to upgrade, unless you know for a fact that you’ve already reached the maximum transfer rate of your current tape drives, which is unlikely, and that doesn’t happen. product never in production. Evaluate the benefits and risks of upgrading, and compare them to the risks of not upgrading. In the end, it’s the company’s data and money that are at stake. So it’s up to you.