Assessing The Benefits Of Disk Versus Tape For Long-Term Archives

With the advent of higher resolution video (HD, 4K and 8K), immersive audio (stereo, Dolby Atmos and Fraunhofer Institute’s MPEG-H), 3D, virtual reality and metadata, media files are increasing in size, putting an unending stress of storage requirements for broadcasters and production companies.

The challenge is to organize these files in such a way that they are instantly located and retrieved by individuals or shared workgroups when they are needed. Once successfully set up, this can facilitate the seamless repurposing and monetization of existing libraries to generate revenue.

The solution is to store all of these assets in a centralized repository or archive that is easily accessible by those that require them. Currently, there are three main options for long-term archive storage: spinning disks, Linear TapeOpen (LTO) cartridges and remote storage (the cloud). Compared to near-line, always available storage, long-term or “archive” storage is much cheaper to deploy and maintain, and users choose it because they do not need the same performance as a production SAN.

For most, a local (on-premise) archive with direct access to big files has become the preferred solution. However, questions remain about how disk- and tape-based storage compare for long-term local archive? Each has it own strengths and weaknesses. Disk storage, for example, provides fast access to the media, but comes with high energy and price per TB of capacity costs. On the other hand, LTO tape can be purchased at a very low price point, but needs a lot of manual handling to exchange and store tapes.

When you compare specific capacities, the actual costs can be equally beneficial, depending upon the application. A storage management software company in Munich, Germany called Archiware GMBH has developed a chart that looks at the two mediums and provides a quick comparison for professionals as a reference. In the chart, conducted in May of this year by Archiwave as part of its market research. Since cloud storage is a category of its own and has very diverse services, it merits its own comparison. For that, the company offers a free online storage calculator that includes cloud storage services.

Archiware said there are always cheaper and more expensive solutions on the market in any category, but they chose medium-priced products for this comparison chart. All numbers given are rounded for simplicity and since the monetary costs in Euros and U.S. Dollars, are similar, no currency is provided in the table. Click on chart to increase size.

Archiware said there are always cheaper and more expensive solutions on the market in any category, but they chose medium-priced products for this comparison chart. All numbers given are rounded for simplicity and since the monetary costs in Euros and U.S. Dollars, are similar, no currency is provided in the table. Click on chart to increase size.

Power consumption is a good example of how small costs add up. Using a computer, one rarely considers how much power it consumes. However, this becomes relevant as soon as RAID systems with many disks come into play. Each disk just has a small wattage figure, but if you multiply it with the number of disks, the number of hours per day and the days in a year, and a considerable amount of money is needed to keep the disks spinning. This can result in four-figure power bills per year. Oftentimes, additional power and devices are also needed for cooling. These were left out of the equation for the sake of simplicity. In comparison, LTO tape´s energy footprint is negligible.

However, the need to increase storage capacity over time is not only likely, it is a given. Most installations underestimate the growth rate of their archive. If you double the capacity with a disk-based archive, you’ll wind up spending double the cost.

On the other hand, LTO tape is the only medium that gets cheaper as the capacity grows. And doing so involves simply adding more cartridges to the same system. Indeed, the ease of increasing the storage capacity is one of the biggest advantages of an LTO tape archive. Compared to spinning disk, a tape-based archive actually pays off over time.

For a fraction of the cost of disks, LTO tape offers extreme longevity, with a shelf life of 30 years. Disk, on the other hand, cannot be stored on a shelf and expected to run reliably after years. RAID arrays have to be powered up permanently in order to preserve the stored data.

Additionally, for the data to be usable, archive software is needed. It should offer an archive catalog with thumbnails and proxies, with metadata fields and combined searching. The cost for proper archive software needs to be added to all solutions. To simplify the comparison it was left out of the equation in the chart.

A cohesive archive can serve as the file memory of a production or distribution company. Having all finalized files available opens opportunities for returning customers, re-use in similar projects, compliance and monetization. It can actually help users save and make money. And the benefits extend to reduced search times that in turn improve research and production speed.

Archiware markets software called P5 Archive that can manage all three types of storage: LTO tape, disk and cloud. It’s a long-term storage solution that moves data to disk, tape and the cloud. The company has been working closely with storage systems supplier Facilis Technology, whose customers use LTO devices attached directly to Facilis servers with Archiware P5 managing the archive workflow. The stored data is easy accessible on the server itself, even immediately after a new volume is created. Also, the speed of access is far greater than a client workstation can achieve, with over 1GB/sec available for tape offload operations.

Archiving to the cloud saves hardware and administration cost, plus the available storage can be easily extended when the need arises.As of P5 Archive version 5.6, cloud-based archiving is possible to Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, Hitachi S3, Microsoft Azure, Wasabi S3, Backblaze B2 and Generic S3.

The P5 Archive software can be set up within minutes, and works on systems running Mac, Linux, Windows, Synology, QNAP and Netgear. Users can restore data on any platform, since the software stores it in a platform-neutral format.

Archiware’s P5 Archive is helping broadcasters, production companies and other types of content distributors to move data to cost-effective tape media. In the process, expensive server storage can be reclaimed while backup times are reduced. By relieving network of traffic, users get a better working experience and increased productivity. And that’s the goal of any storage systems operator.

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Author’s Bio: Dr. Marc M. Batschkus is Business Development Manager at Archiware GMBH, based in Munich, Germany.

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