Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/06/oracle_tape/

Oracle bod: Tape not just for Xmas, it's for Hollywood and unis too

Not only for mainframes, ask the BBC and Sony

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 6th December 2012 07:58 GMT

Interview Oracle loves a bit of flash and disk hardware, flogging compute-and-storage all-in-one Exalogic systems with software on top, but it's partial to tape, too.

Not only does it supply tape, it's one of the top four manufacturers, alongside HP, IBM and SpectraLogic, of very high-end libraries. Like IBM, it has its own storage format - the T10000A, B and C - alongside the nearly all-conquering LTO format, and supplies systems using this to mainframe customers as well as LTO systems everywhere else.

Like IBM, Oracle is protected in the mainframe tape market from the depredations of disk-to-disk (D2D) backup because big iron machines use tape in a different way. But in the world of Windows, Unix and Linux servers, D2D backup has decimated tape backup and relegated it to an archive medium. Now cloud-service providers find tape archiving is much more economical than disk archiving.

Everyday tape use as an archive vault and backstop for D2D is strengthened by LTFS, the Linear Tape File System, which provides standard file and folder access on tape as an alternative to the complex and non-standard storage formats used by dedicated backup applications.

Against this background El Reg asked Tom Wultich, director of tape product management at Oracle, some questions, most of which he answered and some of which he didn't.

El Reg: What is the general position of tape in Oracle's offering?

Tom Wultich: Tape continues to be an area of strength in Oracle’s hardware portfolio. We continue to build out our portfolio of tape offerings for both the enterprise and midrange. In April, Oracle announced StorageTek Tape Analytics software, which is a management and monitoring tool for our StorageTek tape libraries. We launched the StorageTek SL150 modular tape library back in July; it is a small rack-mount LTO library. And then in October, Oracle announced the StorageTek Virtual Storage Manager 6 (VSM) system, our latest generation mainframe virtual tape system.

El Reg: What can you say about the T10000 tape format roadmap? Will we see a T10000D with 6 to 10TB of raw capacity? When? What will the raw capacity be? What would its transfer speed and compression ratio be? 2. Same goes for the T10000E with a 12 to 20TB raw capacity.

Wultich was unable or unwilling to answer these questions.

El Reg: What is Oracle's view of LTFS? Does it provide a new role for tape?

Tom Wultich: We are excited about LTFS. We co-chair the SNIA standard committee for LTFS. Yes, it is starting to knock down a barrier, making tape easier to use than ever before. In addition to the initial customer segment of media and entertainment, we are seeing other large archives taking a serious look at LTFS for the benefits it brings in its interface.

We believe that LTFS is one of the key enablers to help tape bring its long-term TCO advantages to more archival data for more customers. Another key enabler is in monitoring and analytics, where we've made a paradigm shift.

El Reg: Would Oracle add an LTFS-like facility to the T10000 format? What are the pros and cons of doing this?

Tom Wultich: Yes, we provided LTFS last year and released an open-source driver that works with Oracle’s StorageTek T10000C, IBM LTO, and HP LTO tape drives. One of our demos is to move files from one LTO vendor to the T10000C and then to the other LTO vendor. The pros - this enables customers to use LTO for interchange (which is what some people in the media and entertainment need) and use the T10000C for their main storage, enjoying its TCO and enterprise benefits. There isn't much in the way of cons, but the application needs to support it of course.

'No one would ever call a mirror a data protection strategy'

El Reg: Is the role of tape now archive and not backup? Does tape's role differ according to whether the format is LTO or T10000, and, if so, please describe the differing roles.

Tom Wultich: I discuss this with customers and analysts a lot. We see a strong role for tape in mainframe, where it is used behind virtualisation for a variety of archive, data protection, and disaster recovery roles, open systems archive, and also open system backup. The reason for backup is two-fold. First, tape provides a safety-net role in backup. Things can and do go wrong with backup to disk. No one would ever call a mirror a data protection strategy.

Likewise, backing up to disk with de-dupe isn't good enough. Most enterprise customers also keep at least one copy on tape and there have been some reported incidents where the customer was very glad that they had their tape copies. Secondly, the distinction between archive and backup can be fuzzy. While it is nice to think about a separate archive system for all data that is to be kept more than 30 days, many customers use their backup application to provide what many of us would call archiving. They keep their old backups for years.

We all know the downside to that - it is convenient with respect to the writing of the data, but it is very difficult to find the files you want to read back later. However, in the absence of an effective archive strategy and solution, this is what many customers do. Is the data after 30 days an archive or is it a backup? Either way, tape is there, working with the application to store the data.

El Reg: Will tape move into the cloud? Please explain why or why not?

Tom Wultich: It’s already there. We have cloud customers and are seeing this as part of the growth engine for the tape market. Prior to the cloud, we saw a growing segment for tape in customers who are outsourcers. Providing a consolidated storage solution for use by multiple customers, they preceded the cloud. Media and entertainment, cloud, scientific archives, national and education archives, and others are experiencing huge data growth rates and the largest customers in these segments use tape in a big way.

Our largest customer list used to be dominated by mainframe customers and open systems backup customers. Now we see all of those I listed above, including cloud. And of course, Oracle's cloud also uses our tape. One interesting case study is T3Media*.

Where does this leave us?

It's interesting that Oracle recommends the use of tape as a safety net, a backstop, for backup, as well as for archiving.This was unexpected. Its enthusiasm for LTFS is stronger than we thought, while its position on tape and the cloud is as we thought.

We regret Wultich's inability to answer the T10000 roadmap questions but we are quietly confident that Oracle has its own T10000 storage density developments under way, along the lines of IBM's 125TB tape research. Oracle will have to keep pace with IBM in mainframe tape in order to stay in that market - if it wants to stay in that market. IBM may even want it to stay in so as to prevent it having a mainframe tape monopoly with all the downside of high prices and stalled technology development that that would imply.

It would be good if Oracle were to join the LTO organisation; it has more of a tape presence than Quantum, the third member with HP and IBM, and that would help avoid LTO being a cosy duopoly. ®

* T3Media (formerly Thought Equity Motion) offers cloud-based storage, access and licensing for enterprise-scale video libraries. The company licenses sports, news, and creative footage to producers in advertising, entertainment, publishing, and emerging media. It works with the world’s leading video libraries, including BBC Motion Gallery, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, National Geographic, The New York Times, and the NCAA.

T3Media uses Oracle’s StorageTek SL8500 modular library systems with T10000C tape drives managed by Storage Archive Manager software to manage data across two facilities.