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Virtual Tape Data Storage Becoming More Mainstream

IntroAs storage providers unveil new products to support various networks, organizations continue to move from physical tape backup systems to virtual tape libraries (VTLs) to store and back up data. Organizations today are becoming more comfortable with the concept of storage virtualization, which is known for providing more-secure and more-efficient data backup and recovery.
In addition to providing improved data security, faster backups and easier access to stored data, the cost of VTL storage solutions is also coming down as disk storage technology becomes more mainstream. Reducing the total cost of ownership allows smaller organizations to obtain virtual technology that was previously cost prohibitive outside of larger environments. Taking the leap from physical to virtual storage can seem daunting, but the benefits of VTL are numerous.

Automate the Data-Replication Process

Many organizations today are concerned with delayed backups, the reliability of restores and remote protection. A VTL solution minimizes these vulnerabilities by automating and improving backup processes and reducing the number of physical tapes being shuttled offsite. By reducing the amount of physical tape required, organizations are already less vulnerable simply by the fact that fewer tapes can fall off the truck or be misplaced in route to an offsite data repository.

A VTL system works by mimicking a physical tape environment and storing data on a disk subsystem, at least temporarily. The virtual tape systems can run multiple jobs simultaneously and create duplicate copies to multiple physical tapes if required, as well as replicate to a disaster recovery site.

Improved Encryption and Backup Capabilities

Regardless of whether your organization or industry is subject to federal or state regulations surrounding the protection of private customer data, a VTL solution offers considerable benefits. One of the biggest security advantages of a VTL solution is that it enables both encryption and encryption at rest as an option.

Encryption at rest protects your data while it is stored/resting on disk. This approach ensures that if a disk fails and must be replaced, no one can read the information at any point while the disk is away from the system. Encryption is important in that it allows data to be replicated, whether on tape or via the Internet, and remain encrypted throughout the process. This feature eliminates risk if data from a VTL with encryption were to be lost or stolen during transit. The VTL has immense flexibility and can replicate encrypted data to any tape format in use today.

Another advantage is that this extra layer of encryption can be added in a fraction of the time and without the risk of manual intervention or human error, improving reliability by at least 50%.

Although encryption is important for any company interested in securing its data, it is particularly beneficial in industries that are heavily regulated. The security benefits of moving to a VTL storage solution are one among the most important reasons why health-care organizations, insurance companies, credit-card companies, banks and other financial institutions stand to gain the most from making the move away from physical tape backups to a more sophisticated virtual system.

Speed and Optimal Availability for Regulatory-Compliance Needs

In addition to helping secure stored data, VTL systems speed the process of backing up data and of retrieving stored data. Disk storage compresses backup processes and administration, and manual backup operations are reduced significantly because of replication and automation features; many jobs can also run simultaneously.

Because backups are now on an automated schedule with VTL, datacenter operators are freed from the time-consuming and risk-laden tasks involved in managing backups. Users estimate that virtual backups are drastically faster than tape backups, often reducing administrative time and costs by upward of 75%. In addition, it is much faster and easier to find, retrieve and work with data that is stored to disc rather than stored in an offsite location on a tape.

Ability to Scale VTL Solutions

Another big benefit of making the switch to VTL is scalability. Although a company may have purchased a single VTL for its primary datacenter, in some cases the logical next step is to upgrade to multiple tape libraries. Partners and vendors can often help create a phased approach for implementing VTL across an entire organization.

Thanks to newer-generation VTL systems, users can configure multiple virtual libraries, yielding greater flexibility because backups from individual hosts can be kept on separate tapes. Companies can have a separately defined library that is shared and also back up to these virtual devices from multiple independent hosts simultaneously. This approach not only eliminates the need to maintain multiple physical tape backup drives, it provides more central and shared backup and archival capabilities.

Contacting partners and vendors to learn about best practices for scaling your storage virtualization approach is recommended. In these discussions and during the planning phase, ask about adopting vetted mainframe-like practices. By taking advantage of VTL investments, you can liberate yourself from the complexities, redundancies and expense of traditional tape. When you scale your VTL strategy to include your open systems, you stand to gain even more spoils.

Thanks to new enhancements in virtual tape appliances, these systems have been shown to be highly effective in preventing data loss and mitigating risks for organizations in a mainframe environment (IBM iSeries, Unisys and so on) as well as in a Windows/Linux environment. As costs continue to fall and the number of options on the market continues to grow, more and more companies are researching their options when it comes to virtual tape data storage.

In addition to the benefits of automated data replication and encryption capabilities, minimizing a company’s risk of data loss will pay dividends in improved customer confidence and loyalty.

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