Tape isn’t dead: Uses for LTFS in the corporate data center

 In Big Data, Hardware, Solutions, Storage

Every day new technologies are developed that make previously innovative solutions obsolete. We’ve said good-bye to some pretty monumental technology over the years, in favor of newer models that save organizations money, reduce administration, and are more flexible for companies, users, and the environment.

With the advent of hyperconverged backup solutions that use a combination of solid state drives, spinning hard disk drives, and simpler management software, it would be easy to assume the end of tape. But occasionally old technologies are given a facelift that keeps them relevant and enables them to solve new problems and use cases.

Such is the case with Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which makes tape more useful for long-term data archiving than spinning drives.

It’s not a backup system, but if you need to store terabytes to petabytes of large unstructured file data,  and you can wait upwards of 30 minutes, or even an hour to access it, you might consider the LTFS protocol.

What is LTFS and how can it help your organization? Let’s take a look.

What is LTFS?

LTFS is a new use for LTO tape. LTFS is a file system that uses tape for storage, but looks like and acts just like the file systems used in corporate data centers, complete with ‘drag and drop’ and file hierarchy.

An agent runs on the host, understands the LTFS protocol that works over the network, and accesses the server that’s hooked up to the tape library. The host only sees a file system: Just click on a file, and the server reads the tape and caches the data locally so you can access it.

Tape has been used for backup for 50 years. Though it now plays second fiddle to cheap disk storage and backup target appliances, why waste great technology? LTO tape failure rates have improved considerably over the years: The mean time between failures has increased so that tape is far more reliable, drives have gotten faster, and tape capacity has grown larger as new generations keep coming out.

Why not find a new use for tape beyond backup data? LTFS is exactly that.

What kind of data is LTFS best suited for?

Typically LTFS is best used for large files composed of unstructured data–for example, data that is often archived from a database into a flat file, large video, or image files that need to be kept, but maybe not accessed for many months. In those cases, archiving the data on LTFS so you can retrieve it as needed makes far more sense than keeping it on expensive storage arrays.

One particular use case is for video archives for media companies. Video files take up a lot of storage but don’t need to be accessed on a regular basis. A news network might want to store video of its programs for many years, but with exceptionally large files, that can quickly become prohibitively expensive.

On LTFS, storing data doesn’t cost a lot of money, and the files are still accessible at a later date if necessary, with minimal effort.

Why should you look into LTFS for archive files?

1. Cost. Some data needs to be stored in expensive shared storage arrays using solid-state drives that can provide access in milliseconds, or in object storage that can deliver it in a couple of seconds. But if you don’t need the data right now, why pay as if you do? Rather than pay several dollars per gigabyte, with LTFS you pay mere pennies.

To store 1 petabyte in the cloud for three years might cost more than a million dollars. That’s certainly less expensive than shared storage arrays and storage area networks managed internally. But LTFS can store the same amount for a fourth of the cost.

2. Easy management. If you store files on backup tapes, you have to run the backup software and restore the file; you have to move tapes to a storage facility and replace them, going through many extra steps. If you store files on a locally accessible storage array, it can be expensive and time consuming to manage and maintain.

LTFS, however, acts like a file folder on the server, and the only maintenance is maintaining the tape library.

3. Its modular. You can buy more libraries and services as needed as your storage needs continue to grow.

Solid solution for niche application

LTFS doesn’t make sense for a lot of data, but for archives that you want to access just like a file, it offers a cost-effective, scalable, easy-to-manage option.

Have questions about LTFS? Contact your SHI account executive.

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