The cloud wants your junk data

What do you think about when you think about cloud?   A lot of people think of shiny, new technology made of all new APIs and hypervisors and mobile devices and cutting edge code and things that only the next generation will understand. And for a lot of cloud customers, that’s reality. New, new, new.

What you probably didn’t know, however, is that the storage part of the cloud service provider businesses aren’t hung up on new. In fact, they are ecstatic about old. Old junk data that you would rather forget about, get out of your life and out of your data center. Data that you know you shouldn’t just delete because an attorney somewhere will ask for it. But data that’s taking up expensive tier 1 storage that is the digital equivalent of engine sludge.

Cloud storage services want it – even if you end up deleting it later. It doesn’t matter to them.  You might be thinking they just want to mine your data.  Nope. They are perfectly fine storing encrypted data that they will never be able to read. To them, it’s all the same flavor of money at whatever the going rate is.  They don’t care if the data was a lot bigger before it was deduped or compressed or whatever you have done to it to reduce the cost. Why should they care if you send them 100 GB of data that was originally 1 TB. They don’t.

It’s good business for them – they’ll even replicate it numerous times to prevent data loss.  You might be thinking “but it’s garbage data, I’d never replicate it”.  True, but if it’s garbage, data then why do you have so many backup copies of it on tape and possibly in other locations?  Why are you managing garbage over and over again?

It’s a double win. They want it and you don’t. All you need is the equivalent of a pump to move it from your expensive tier 1 storage to their data storage services. There are a number of ways this can be done, including using products from StorSimple, the company I work for. A StorSimple system ranks data based on usage, compacts it, tags it (in metadata), encrypts it and migrates it to a storage tier in the cloud where it can be downloaded or deleted later if that’s what you decide to do with it. How much money do you think your company is wasting taking care of junk?

Not dead yet, but when will you get rid of tape?

Do you have any more tapes you want to get rid of?

People have predicted the ending of tape as a storage medium since the first rotating storage drums were made by wrapping recording tape around modified washing machine drums. Too cumbersome and too error prone, tape has survived because people use it for archiving and off-site DR storage. It has always been the storage backstop for all the other things that can go wrong – from human error to combinations of calamities that are stranger than fiction.

But tape itself has been a big problem. It is a byzantine technology with impressive data fast transfer rates, but is saddled by cumbersome management that requires many touch points where things can go wrong. Restoring from multiple tapes is time consuming and unnerving, but considered normal. Contrast that with using dedupe technology that can access and restore  data much more quickly.  The main problem with dedupe is it’s cost. The most popular disk-based dedupe systems are not necessarily cheap. The other problem is that many customers still use tape with dedupe for DR purposes. Used this way, tape it is less intrusive, but it still is a pain.

Disk-based dedupe has taken a big bite out of tape’s business, but yet tape has continued limping along like an unkillable zombie. Now with cloud backup looking like it could take even more out of tape’s market, is tape going to finally keel over?

Tape is tired


Putting tape backups on less expensive virtual tape cloud storage could look like an obvious solution, but like all things in storage, initial impressions are usually misleading. While cloud storage can be made to look like a big disk or tape drive in the sky, it is much slower than the old frenemy tape. The difference is most pronounced when you want it to be most transparent – during restores. Technologies for data reduction, such as deduplication and compression help, but the fastest restores from the cloud will use technologies like thin restores that were developed by StorSimple. Why restore data that you probably won’t need again? Just leave it in the cloud.

But getting back to tape, the cloud industry is making enormous investments in service offerings, including storage services, which will continue to be improved and expanded.  The cloud service providers are not stupid. They want your data so they can get your computing business when you are ready to start doing that.

Tape technology vendors do not have the marketing muscle to protect their install base, regardless of how entrenched those customers may appear. The fact is, only the largest IT shops have the resources to “do tape” well. Everybody else struggles with the stuff and will happy to jettison it as soon as they can.

So will tape disappear completely if most of the market goes away? Probably not, for starters cloud storage service providers will probably use a lot of tape, and large customers that know how to make it work will continue to want it.

My guess is that tape will follow the path of mainframe technologies into the mostly invisible corners of the technology industry where vendors are few and margins are high. Tape won’t die, it will only seem like it did.