Virtual Tape Libraries (VTL) are becoming increasingly popular. What benefits do they have compared with traditional long-term storage options? Should your company switch to a VTL?
Building a reliable data archive can be prohibitively expensive for many businesses. When you need to store large volumes of data for 10 or more years, cost becomes the biggest obstacle. Tape technology has been the most popular traditional long-term solution due to its affordability. But it is rather risky. Tape cartridges routinely fail, and the backup and restore process can be too complicated at times.
Companies adopt virtualization technologies as a reliable, cost-effective alternative to tape libraries. Switching to a VTL is a reasonable business decision that has many benefits.
Challenges of Long-Term Data Storage
It makes no sense economically to use bleeding-edge tech for storing old data. Companies looking to build a data archive are mostly concerned about price. That’s why old technologies like magnetic tape data storage are still being used today. Magnetic tapes were first used to record and store computer data more than 70 years ago. Nobody uses a server or a home computer that runs programs from a tape cartridge in 2022. However, magnetic tape is cheap and has a longer shelf life than CD or DVD disks, making it the first choice for long-term data storage.
Revolutions in data storage push previous industry standards into oblivion. For example, CD disks used to be extremely popular and now the market for them doesn’t exist anymore. Alternatively, these old storage devices can find their home in the data archives if they are affordable and can last long. That’s why tapes are still being used.
Today, solid-state drives (SSDs) have become the dominant form of short-term computer storage. Hard disk drives (HDDs), which were the previous industry standard, have found their new home in data archives.
HDDs are inexpensive, more reliable than tapes, and can last for decades if they are not used intensively. Combined with virtualization, hard disk drives can provide a better alternative for traditional magnetic tape storage.
What is a Virtual Tape Library?
Virtual Tape Libraries simulate traditional tape libraries using HDD arrays. Their main purpose is to store data that can be used for archiving and backup. Since a VTL presents itself as a tape device when connected to a network, companies using them don’t need to develop or buy new software. They can transfer their existing data from a physical tape library to a VTL or use these storage systems together to create “a backup of a backup”, thus increasing chances of data recovery.
In contrast to a physical tape library, a VTL allows writing and reading data much faster, reducing backup and recovery times. VTLs are compatible with other modern storage features, like NAS, and can be easily scaled.
A VTL can be managed from a centralized location through a backup media server. It also reduces operating and maintenance costs.
Main Features of VTLs
- Low deployment and maintenance costs due to using commodity hardware
- Improved performance due to using fast HDDs and deduplication
- Simplified management and easy integration into any IT infrastructure
Reasons to Use a VTL
Switching to a VTL can be one of the main cost-saving moves for a company that needs to manage large amounts of archived data. It provides several benefits both from economical and technical points of view.
Modern businesses rely on a constant flow of data. If for some reason your main office stops working, it can result in thousands of dollars being lost per hour. With VTLs, you don’t need to shut down your entire IT system to perform a backup operation. Compared even with the fastest performing tape drives, VTLs shrink the backup windows even more, resulting in negligible downtime.
Less Manual Work
Using physical mediums like the tape is impossible without handling them manually. If your data archive is offsite, you need to assign an employee to bring a magnetic tape there. Or you can hire a specialized service. VTLs use replication to protect you from data loss and can be managed from a centralized location. You won’t have to handle storage devices manually.
Storing archived data offsite is a recommended practice to prevent data loss. Your office can get damaged by fire, water, and other elements. Your IT system can become compromised and all your data will be corrupted. Traditional tape libraries don’t allow for offsite replication, but VTLs do. Your data is transferred and replicated automatically.
Deduplication Makes Storage Efficient
Unlike physical storage devices, you don’t have to replicate entire volumes of data when using a VTL. The system will monitor the changes in data and record only those digital objects that were changed recently. This process is called deduplication. Using much smaller units of data without having to store dozens of identical files frees up available space and saves you money.
VTLs are much safer
Storing unencrypted data is a major safety violation. Companies need to use encryption to comply with government regulations if they store sensitive user data, including personal information. Using encryption with magnetic tapes is a complicated and time-consuming process. On the other hand, VTL devices don’t require specialized software for encryption. You can encrypt and decrypt your backups and other data fast.
Faster Data Recovery
Enterprise-level companies routinely use backups to restore critical data which gets lost or corrupted mostly due to human error. The faster your restore process is, the better it is for your financial bottom line. VTLs restore backups much faster than traditional storage solutions.
Virtual tape libraries are a cost-efficient alternative to traditional data storage solutions. They provide companies with a simple infrastructure and robust encryption and deduplication features. VTLs can be used with any existing IT infrastructure.