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Modern Research Benefits from Old School Storage

How modern tape storage addresses research data needs

The preservation of research data is a serious business.  Long-term retention is a central tenet to the success of research facilities such as the University of Oxford1 and the University of Cambridge2 where traditional museum-grade storage conditions for paper documents now sit alongside enterprise-quality data storage solutions.

New Thinking Based on Sound Experience

There are many reasons why research institutions elect to hold on to data for extended periods of time.

These would include:

  • Usefulness in historical trend analysis
  • The potential for future application
  • Conditions attached to research funding
  • Significance of research

The difference today is that research data is getting higher in volume and density and is running into petabyte territory.  At this point, the question moves from one of shelf-space to one of rack space.

Researching Behaviours

As with commercial entities, research establishments are equally unlikely to have vast budgets for storage.  This creates a dichotomy whereby researchers are expected to leverage technology in order to assist with their studies, and yet the storage space available to them is limited in order to minimise the fiscal impact on the research establishment.  This can lead to the following behaviours:

  • Institutions limiting directory storage
  • Researchers storing / sharing data via personal accounts such as Dropbox or WeTransfer

The above either hinder research efforts or put data at risk of malicious or accidental incidents such as early publication and malware attacks.  With industrial partnerships commonplace between commercial organisations and research institutions, it is paramount that data is not only safe during its useful life, when it may move between institutions, but also appropriately decommissioned once the partnership ends.  Data that is not adequately protected further exposes research institutions to the risk of financial penalty / legal action from commercial partners should a breach occur.

The Right Research Storage Solution

The great news for research organisations is that there is a raft of data available when it comes to comparing storage solutions and a happy medium to be met between making the most of a heritage asset (tape) and combining it with the latest thinking (flash).

This combination of flash plus tape (‘Flape’) offers enormous power and scalability alongside exceptional affordability – as illustrated by this extract from the Wikibon Case Study tool.  With Flape offering a 53% TCO saving over disk, it meets the requirements of research institutions to provide a scalable solution that is also economically viable.

Flape meets some other key focus points for research institutions in that it offers efficiency of energy consumption (up to 76 times less than disk1) and takes up little floor space (you can achieve 30 PBs of storage in 10sq ft of floor space2).  With some educational institutions housed in historic buildings, there have been instances where the strength of the floor has impacted the decision making around storage solutions – the relatively small footprint of tape therefore becomes an important factor.

Security is important too – no-one wants their research leaked or plagiarised.  Tape offers a robust solution that is easily portable, offers secure multi-tenancy and can be taken offline without harming stored content.

Remaining at the Forefront

With research organisations being looked to as protectors of knowledge and pioneers of new thinking, it makes sense that the storage solutions supporting them are equally innovative whilst taking advantage of previous advances.

With Flape, organisations can classify data and decide what needs to reside on flash for rapid retrieval, and what can stay on tape for long-term storage.  With solutions such as IBM Spectrum Scale, lifecycle management policies can be applied to automatically work out when to use flash and when to use tape.

In the context of the examples provided in this blog post, the ability of digital tape to store important data in perpetuity, make live data readily accessible, and create a store that is scalable, searchable and referenceable, offers a solution that has the perfect balance of new ways of thinking and old school experience.

Why IBM?

IBM is uniquely positioned in the market – where other vendors may assert that tape is dead, IBM continues to invest in tape technology; finding ways in which to leverage its ability to inexpensively and reliably store data alongside more modern technologies such as disk and flash.

For organisations, this means better data economics via right-sized storage that supports your existing investments and future growth needs.  To find out more, visit https://www.ibm.com/storage/tape

  1. http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bdlss/digital-services/data-archiving
  2. https://help.uis.cam.ac.uk/supporting-research/servers-data-storage-and-backup/data-storage/research-data-storage
  3. Clipper Group Continuing the Search for the Right Mix of Long-Term Storage Infrastructure — A TCO Analysis of Disk and Tape Solutions July 2015
  4. IBM TS4500 tape library with 3:1 compression

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