IBM Spectrum Storage – New Use Cases for Tape Technology

By Jane Clabby, Clabby Analytics


IBM’s recent storage announcement was chock full of new solutions and enhancements to an already strong storage line-up. As one fellow analyst put it, “It is difficult to comprehend the enormity of the announcement.” As a result, this blog will focus on one of the newly announced products that may get lost in the shuffle—the TS1160 tape drive, the latest addition to the IBM tape storage product line. Is tape dead? No, it’s not! Tape is part of the bigger storage picture, and is integral to IBM’s modern data protection and archiving strategy.

And just like the IBM mainframe, tape doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. Not only does the company continue to add new higher capacity, higher performance tape drives, and state-of-the-art tape libraries, but IBM Research continues to make investments in tape technology that will drive down cost while dramatically increasing tape density (IBM has demonstrated the ability to record 201 gigabits per square inch). With that and new use cases in hyperscale environments and for addressing enterprise cyberattack and ransomware threats, the future looks bright for tape storage.

Why Tape? A Closer Look

The primary reasons to use tape are low cost, high reliability and security, data transfer rates, and high capacity. Those characteristics make tape ideal for both traditional back-up and archival, as well as next generation storage-hungry workloads including big data, cloud storage services, media and entertainment, hyperscale computing, scientific research, artificial intelligence and IoT. Tape improves the economics of storage by offering a low-cost storage tier. Tape also consumes far less energy.

According to the Tape Storage Council’s 2017 State of the Tape Industry Report, “Tape is serving multiple roles for the enormous hyperscale, internet and cloud data centers as tape capacity can easily scale without adding more drives – this is not the case with HDDs where each capacity increase requires another drive and quickly becomes costlier than tape as capacity demand increases. Using tape for cloud archives, rather than HDDs, greatly reduces cloud TCO and creates a ‘green cloud.’”

Spectra Logic’s Digital Data Storage Outlook also weighs in, noting “As small and medium enterprises move their disaster recovery strategies to the cloud, the volume of small tape systems will decrease. That data, however, will be archived on large tape systems installed by cloud manufacturers. This trend will lead to more aggressive adoption of new tape media as the cloud providers have incentive to lower the cost per GB.“

Tape is also underpinning the “Flape” concept, first introduced by David Floyer of Wikibon, back in 2014. Floyer observes, “The combination of tape and flash, for large objects/files, is going to offer not only lower costs, but also much higher performance than spinning disk-based alternatives. This changes the dynamics of storage for long-term data retention and so-called big data lakes.” In this scenario, new content is stored on flash, while archives are stored on tape, taking advantage of flash performance for quick data access and tape’s longevity, cost and reliability as the second tier.

For enterprise customers, tape is a foolproof way to protect against cyberattacks and ransomware. While disk back-up may be faster than tape, it is still on-line and therefore subject to hackers, data breaches, and software bugs. Tape provides an easy, cost-effective solution. Tape has built-in encryption and is secure precisely because it is stored off-line (sometimes called the Air Gap), where the data cannot be accessed or changed.

IBM TS1160 – A Closer Look

IBM has a long history of innovation in magnetic tape data storage. Its first commercial tape product, the 726 Magnetic Tape Unit, was announced more than 60 years ago. Since then, IBM has been the #1 global supplier of branded tape for 15 years in a row. According to Mark Lantz, Manager of the Advanced Tape Technologies at IBM Research Zurich, “The IBM Research–Zurich lab has been working hard to find ways to enable the continued scaling of tape, either by adapting hard-drive technologies or by inventing completely new approaches.”

IBM’s latest addition to the tape drive line-up is the IBM TS1160 enterprise tape drive, offering improved storage space efficiency and scale-out capacity when compared to the TS1150.  You may recall that IBM introduced LTO8 in 2017. While LTO8 may offer a lower initial cost, the TS1160 enterprise tape drive currently provides 66% greater capacity, 20% better file access, job times 20x greater for some applications and 3x greater loader life than LTO8.

The TS1160 is an ideal solution for long-term data protection, back-up, archiving, tiered storage in multi-cloud environments, and cloud hyperscale.

Major Features:

  •   Improves storage space efficiency, storing 2X (over TS1150) native capacity (20TB) per tape (60 TB compressed)
  • Write Once Read Many (WORM) cartridges for improved security
  • Support for existing media: Read and write in TS1150 formats, read only in TS1140 format.
  • Speeds data intensive applications up to 11% with 400 MB/sec native drive data rate (900 MB/sec compressed)
  • Enhances existing IBM TS4500 and TS3500 tape libraries
  • RAO (recommended access ordering) for faster file location access and vrtual backhitch to improve read/write performance for smaller files to meet SLA’s and workload requirements
  • Uses LTFS format and expands storage capacity in IBM Spectrum Archive for direct, intuitive and graphical access to data
  • New 16 Gb FC support
  • Spectrum Protect integration
  • Encryption AES-256/LZ-1 enhanced

IBM Spectrum Archive

TS1160 supports the LTFS format standard for reading, writing and exchanging descriptive metadata on formatted tape cartridges and can be used with IBM Spectrum Archive for direct, intuitive and graphical access to data. No proprietary software is needed, so the cost of long-term data retention is reduced. This enables the creation of operational storage tiers and reduces the storage expense for data that does not need the access performance of primary disk. Data is dynamically stored at optimal cost, maximizing security and data performance.

Let’s look at two examples of how IBM tape solutions are working with IBM Spectrum Storage software to deliver customer value:

VU University Medical Center Amsterdam

VU University Medical Center (VUmc), a leading academic medical center focused on oncology, neuroscience and cardiovascular disease, experienced rapid growth in storage requirements prompting a reevaluation of its infrastructure. Working with partner E-Storage, the medical center migrated from NAS drives to IBM Spectrum Storage.

VUmc implemented a fully virtualized storage solution based on IBM Spectrum Scale, later adding the ability to perform automated online archive tiering to tape with IBM Spectrum Archive and an IBM TS4500 Tape Library. The new storage platform included four storage tiers with storage metadata residing on tier 0 SSDs, tier 1 layer low-latency SAS drives, with higher-latency disks for less frequently used data in the tier 2 layer, with the lowest storage tier comprise of a tape library managed with IBM Spectrum Archive.

The capabilities of the IBM storage platform have enabled VUmc to reduce the number of storage administrators, reduce their recovery point objective, cost-effectively retain data for long periods of time while still maintaining easy access, and complete storage migrations 99 percent faster. VUmc plans to add cloud storage into the mix in the near future.

Pixit Media

When Pixit Media, a leading media & entertainment company based in the UK, needed an infrastructure solution that could easily share, store and access huge files, they turned to IBM Spectrum Storage. Massive ultra-high definition video and image sequences must be transferred between systems, leading to long delays where users are idle- squeezing already low profit margins even lower.

Using IBM Spectrum Scale, infrastructure can scale up or down using commodity hardware, and multiple users can access data at the same time for concurrent editing, offering huge time and cost savings for Pixit clients.

IBM Spectrum Archive provides Pixit Media with direct, intuitive and graphical access to data stored in IBM tape drives and libraries. This enables Pixit clients to easily archive projects without using a manual process. Spectrum Archive provides a centralized approach which can be implemented and scales quickly and easily

The IBM Spectrum Storage platform delivers near to 98 percent performance and capacity efficiency, stores metadata with the file making content searching easier, and eliminates the need to overprovision. As a result, Pixit has been able to offer customers TCO that can be up to 25 percent below the competition.

Summary Observations

While the TS1160 tape drive was just one of the many highlights in IBM’s storage announcement, its significance shouldn’t be overlooked. At this point, IBM is the market’s sole manufacturer of enterprise-class tape drives, and one of few manufacturers of LTO drives. This represents a great opportunity for IBM and its customers—particularly in light of the additional value provided by the entire IBM Spectrum Storage product line.

As big data gets bigger and bigger, the demand for low-cost, secure, reliable enterprise tape storage will continue to accelerate. Hyperscale cloud providers and the rise of multi-cloud architectures will also contribute to growth in tape storage. In addition, organizations are increasingly turning to tape to deliver security and Air Gap protection, helping to mitigate the risk of ransomware. IBM, with its unique leadership position in tape and tape drives, storage software and software-defined storage should be able to take full advantage of these trends.