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Disk drives for data archiving

Understand disk drive and storage options to support your customers' data archiving needs.

VARs have many opportunities to support data archiving for regulatory compliance, new federal rules for civil procedures (FRCP) and document management, among other applications. In addition to data preservation, archiving is a great way to improve overall system performance by removing seldom used data -- so you can free up storage capacity and the I/O resources needed to back up and manage data. Consequently, byproducts of archiving include performance boosts for data backups, replication and mirroring, and improved day-to-day activity.

To help you support customer data archiving needs, this tip reviews your disk drive and storage options.

Traditionally data storage for archiving electronic data and documents has been the realm of magnetic tape and optical media driven by capacity, reliability and cost. With the advent of improved reliability, RAID, higher capacity and lower costs, magnetic hard disk drives (HDD) are being used for nearline and archive storage. In some cases, HDD-based archive solutions are combined with tape or optical solutions as part of a tiered-archive storage solution.

Storage solutions for data archiving include:

  • HDD
  • Optical
  • Tape

HDD-based archiving

There are several options for HDD-based archiving, including traditional block-based Fibre Channel, iSCSI, SAS or SATA-attached storage systems, NFS and CIFS-based NAS, or object-based content addressable storage (CAS). Arguably one of the most successful HDD-based archiving solutions has been the EMC Centera with solutions also available from Hewlett-Packard and IBM, among others.

These storage implementations leverage high capacity, lower cost SATA or, in some cases, nearline Fibre Channel disk drives for storing data as blocks, files or objects managed via archiving software. Another type of HDD storage is the virtual tape library (VTL), which emulates a traditional tape library, and tape drives for backup or archiving purposes. Options for HDD-based archiving include write-once-read-many (WORM), encryption, RAID data protection, power management and removable HDD (RHDD).

Data archiving two-part series
Part 1: Disk drives for data archiving

Part 2: Data archiving best practices

There are many different types of SATA disk drives, including enterprise class and desktop with various performance, capacity and availability characteristic. HDD-based solution vendors include Archivas, Bycast, Diligent, EMC, FalconStor, Fujitsu, Hitachi, IBM, Imation, LSI/Engenio, Network Appliance, Nexsan, Overland, Permabit, PowerFile, Quantum, Seagate, Sepaton, Sun, Symantec and Xyratex, among others.

Optical-based archiving

Optical storage is well suited for regulatory archival of digital documents that require a long shelf life, including medical, imaging, publishing, financial and legal documents. For smaller data amounts, CD and DVD can be used for archiving while larger capacity options are up in the air until the HD DVD vs. BluRay format winner is resolved. Optical media and drives support WORM for data preservation and various storage interfaces for attachment to servers and storage systems controllers. Various optical library and single optical drive solutions are compatible with different software and operating systems.

Optical formats include:

  • Magneto optical (MO) 3.5" up to 2.3 GB and 5.25" up to 9.1 GB in capacity
  • CD and DVD ranging from 2.6 GB to 9.4 GB
  • Ultra density optical (UDO) in 30 GB
  • HD DVD with 15 GB (single layer) up to 51 GB (triple layer)
  • BluRay with 25 GB (single layer) up to 50 GB (dual layer)
  • Optical-based media, drive and library vendors include Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Imation, Phillips, Pioneer, Plasmon, Powerfile and Sony.

    Tape-based archiving

    Tape has long been used as a medium for data archiving and protection tasks, including backup. Tape remains viable for use as an archiving medium given its relative low cost and, more importantly, lack of power consumption when not in use. However, tape does have its detractors even though capacities, formats, reliability and performance continue to improve. At some point, data will need to be migrated from one tape format to some other archive medium as part of a technology replacement or refresh and to insure data readability. There are many different options for tape ranging from small open systems formats for entry level to 2 TB tape cartridges (with 2 to 1 compression) for IBM zOS FICON and ESCON mainframe attachment. Several tape formats support some form of WORM for data preservation, compression along with tape encryption.

    Tape formats include:

  • LTO Ultrium with up to 800 GB (2-to-1 compression)
  • AIT up to 1,040 GB (compressed AIT5)
  • DLT and Super DLT (SDLT)
  • IBM 358x and 359x cartridges and drives
  • STK T10000, 9940 and 9840
  • IBM TS1120 tape drive up to 2.1 TB with 3:1 compression
  • Tape media, drives and library vendors include Breecehill, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Imation, Qualstar, Quantum, Sony, SpectraLogic, Sun/STK and Tandberg.

    On the horizon is holographic storage, slated to be formally announced and made generally available later in 2007. For example, InPhase Technologies has begun shipping beta units for initial evaluation and pilot testing with capacities of 300 GB per 5.25" disk. The future or roadmap for holographic solutions that should be generally available later in 2007 include enhancements for more capacity, performance and cost improvements with volume shipments in the years to come.

    Read part two on data archiving best practices.

    About the author: Greg Schulz is founder and Sr. analyst of the independent storage analyst firm the StorageIO group and author of the book "Resilient Storage Networks" (Elsevier).

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