Archival Options: Optical Versus Tape
Data center long-term storage is essential: backups are primarily a recovery precaution for catastrophic loss. Long-term storage is also important for legal protection purposes. Both LTO magnetic tape and Optical Disc Archive are viable cold storage options. These formats may not have the ease of access formats like cloud storage and local hard disk drive backups, but make up for it by being comparatively inexpensive and exceptionally reliable. Sony’s Optical Disc Archive platform is an extension of Blu-ray storage technology while tape storage has been a mainstay of the industry for decades.
Both optical and LTO offer impressive storage capacities, but tape wins by far. Modern Blu-ray discs can store up to 100GB of data, while 300GB discs are on the horizon: Sony combines multiple discs into cartridges with capacities up to 3.3TB. Meanwhile, modern tape cartridges are as large as 220TB. Optical works well for single backups whereas a single tape can hold several backups.
Magnetic tape beats Optical Disc Archive in cost-per-capacity by a huge margin. Currently, a 1.5TB optical cartridge costs $146, offering 1GB of storage for about ten cents and there is a startup cost though as a 10-slot library device costs $16,000 while a single-slot USB drive costs $7,000. A 2.5TB tape costs as little as $29.50, offering 1GB of maximized storage per cent.
On the positive side, both formats offer substantial savings in costs over power consumption compared to HDD-based options because the formats only use electricity under active use.
Businesses that require archives lasting half a century or longer should look towards optical over tape. Optical Disc Archive media are rated to last at least 50 years, with 100 years being a viable possibility. Comparatively, magnetic tape storage cartridges are expected to last around 30 years. Optical storage is also more resilient to climate conditions than data tape: optical discs can be stored between 15 and 131 degrees Fahrenheit while data tapes start to deteriorate when stored below 61 degrees and above 95 degrees. The storage temperature difference means a business only needs to spend 10,000 kwh vs 25,000 kwh to climate control protect optical discs over magnetic tapes.
Ease of Use
While tapes offer fast read times around 400Mbps, it can take an incredibly long time to access data on the device. Comparatively, optical discs peak at around 330Mbps read speeds. The optical format can locate files in about 27 seconds whereas LTO takes upwards of 100 seconds. This time discrepancy can significantly add up when searching for multiple files spread across the archive. It’s close for recovering the entire archive, but If you’re looking for something specific in the archive the tape is going to be very time consuming. In tape’s defense, 95% of archived data is never accessed again beyond 90 days while 90% of data is never accessed again.
Both platforms are viable options for long-term storage and have the advantage of easy off-site storage for additional protection. These platforms also work well as a secondary backup option when combined with cloud or local solutions.
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