IBM’s Cindy Grossman Explores Backup, Recovery and Archive Issues Present and Future

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By Mark Ferelli

The Fujifilm Global IT Executive Summit last February was a journalist’s dream when it came to both the obtaining of hype-free information  and the meeting some of leading lights of  the storage industry.  I was privileged to meet IBM’s Cindy Grossman at the event. Cindy Grossman is vice president for IBM’s Tape and Archive Storage Systems.  In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of the tape and archive storage business within IBM including profit and loss, product portfolio investments; go to market strategy and execution and customer support.  She recently found some time to share some of her thoughts on the industry.

Mark Ferelli: Almost every year, the word goes out that “tape is dead” for any number of reasons, both technological and business.  But tape is still a big business for IBM. What is your take on the “tape is dead” pronouncements?

Cindy Grossman: I’ve been here for five years, and I hear the same thing.  I think the main voices behind the “tape is dead” mantra are the vendors that don’t have tape as part of their storage offerings. The world has evolved, usage of physical tape has evolved, and tape is not dead.  Events have forced customers to look at the storage infrastructure more carefully now and a tiered implementation of multiple storage technologies is often needed to handle clients’ complex needs.

MF: In what way?

CG: The 9/11 event and regional natural disasters have made clients aware that meeting backup windows wasn’t enough any more…they must have multiple layers of data protection and must restore fast.  “Disk-based backup” lets you recover fast, but tape hasn’t been completely removed from the backup function. Clients try to restore from disk-based backup but keep tape as an extra layer of off-line protection against drive failures, file corruption or sabotage. But the question of how long data is kept also makes a difference in using tape based solutions.

MF: Data life is an issue, then?

CG: Yes, especially for clients with larger infrastructures.  If the data life is short, about 30-60 days, disk backup is OK.  But over sixty days, affordability becomes an issue with disk backup.

MF: Beyond backup, though, tape seems to be the medium of choice for archiving, mandated by regulatory compliance, e-discovery requirements or just good corporate governance. IBM has introduced a solution into the marketplace that it calls the Information Archive. What does IA bring to the data center?

CG: The Information Archive is a complete solution uniquely designed to provide a universal, scalable, and secure storage repository for structured and unstructured content. Using disk and tape technology to lower TCO and intelligently manage archive data, the solution is ideally suited to manage both active and inactive archive information.

Information Archive supports three collections to accommodate different compliance, retention, interface and storage policies. Policy options include disk replication, tape encryption, deduplication, shredding and an integrated optional migration to tape.

MF: The LTO Consortium, of whom IBM is a founder, has introduced LTO-5 this year, with a capacity of 1.5 TB per cartridge and an uncompressed data transfer rate of up to 140 MB/s. Aside from the speed and feed, what other feature makes the new generation worth adopting?

CG: I’d look at the Long Term File System (LTFS) software from IBM that uses the dual partitioning capability of LTO-5 technology. LTFS stores the contents index or metadata in the first small partition and the data content in the second large partition: think about mounting a tape as if it was a disk drive or a giant flash drive.

LTFS is open source software that is an implementation of the Linear Tape File System specification adopted by the LTO consortium. It’s a new file system that gives file-based access to tape data.  In LTFS, files are stored in application-independent fashion and gives the ability to distribute and interchange files on tape.

It is a self describing tape, enabling hierarchical directory structure, file names, file properties, metadata files, fast search indexes, and domain-specific information. We introduced it at NAB [Editor’s note: the National Association of Broadcasters] show, and there was standing room only at the booth to view this game changing capability.

MF: Why all the excitement from the media and entertainment crowd?

CG: Right now, the entertainment industry uses the ProVideo format for video processing. Using LTO-5 along with our new LTFS software, they get a separate directory track, and can drag-and-drop from tape to disk to tape. They can make edits on disk, then return to tape for the next round. All the metadata is there that would be in the application database; no more need for the more expensive ProVideo. 

MF: IBM and Fujifilm recently announced a new record in tape media density…29.5 billion bits per square inch. Using barium ferrite media and Fuji’s NANOCUBIC chemistry, this would enable about a 35 TB cartridge, uncompressed…44 times LTO-4. What motivated the joint project…IBM is seen more as a hardware/software/systems company?

CG: This demonstration shows that tape has a very strong future. New critical IBM technologies were developed for this event including new low friction read-write heads,  precision head control, a 25 fold increase in tracks, and new error detection methods.
These technologies will help enable the deep tape densities needed to address the ever increasing longevity demands. 

MF: You know, it’s hard to justify a “tape is dead” proposition when the plans are going out that far.  Thank you, Cindy.