Tapeless Archiving Made Easy

For more than 30 years, Data Tape in one form or another was the most logical choice for Media Archives. Tape offered the capacity that early hard disks lacked, and although the tape media and tape drives both had a fair share of problems, tape archives could be made secure by creating two independent copies of each file on different tapes.

The idea of Replication did not translate to the Hard Disk world where RAID quickly became preferred for its ability to aggregate together the capacity and bandwidth of an array of small disks to provide a useful amount of fast storage, and importantly with a self-healing capability to protect against disk failures.

Come forward 25 years and we have witnessed disk capacities increasing from 1TB to 10 TB, in a cat and mouse race against increasing data tape capacities. Today disks have the edge, on capacity but tape cartridges have the edge on cost, but for how long? The demands of the cloud and big-data data storage are driving the cost and capacity of both, but it’s reasonable to assume that a non-linear medium will ultimately be the winner

So today’s high capacity 8TB and 10 TB disks offer excellent cost and capacity but two fundamental issues have to be addressed to create a secure and cost effective Media Archive

Power Costs & Security

As recently as five years ago popular opinion was that hard disks would never be able to compete with tape, due to the cost of the power they used and the cost of the air conditioning to get rid of the heat they dissipated. On the face of it this seems to be an insurmountable problem, compared with a tape library, where the recording media is passive.

Turning to the security aspect, it became evident that RAID itself was the Achilles’ heel. In one form or another RAID is still predominantly the technique used for Online disk storage, albeit sharing the top tier with increasingly affordable Solid State storage.

With any well-designed RAID, the risk of loss is very low when the individual disks are small, but the vulnerability increases with disk capacity. Even a dual fault-tolerant RAID, can expose media assets to catastrophic loss for a window of up to 10 days. The moral of the story is – don’t assume that RAID necessarily means, “secure”.

Clustered Storage and Object storage get around the problem and as a result they dominate the Nearline market, neatly dividing the tier in terms of performance and cost, offering more choices for the system designer working to a budget.

Replication Re-emerges

Replication has also re-emerged for Online Cloud storage, and Offline Archives, providing the highest levels of security and unlocking the potential of even lower cost Shingled magnetic Recording disks (SMR). But here again the technology branches into two subtly different forms, which has a very big impact on Archive Storage.

Replication for the Cloud is based on segmenting the files and storing the segments in geographically separated locations. This diversity means the data will survive a disk failure or even an entire data center failure

Offline Disk Archives – An Alternative to Data Tape

For Broadcasters and Media companies, the most important attributes of an Archive are Longevity, Security, Removable Media and Total Lifetime Cost of Ownership. Non-segmented Replication ticks all those boxes by creating two identical copies of each complete media file, on different hard disks. These disk Replicas can be in the same Enclosure at the TV Station, or distributed between geographically separated locations on a wide area network.

Since the files are not segmented, individual disks can be removed for Shelf Storage, Transportation or Disaster Recovery. This technique also allows the disks to be fully spun down and stopped, with individual disks spinning-up to archive or restore files on demand with a latency of seconds, rather than minutes, even for the largest Petabyte-class configurations.

Spinning down the disks overturns the historical power consumption objection and greatly extends the life of the disk drives which are more likely to clock up 10 - 100 hours per year rather than 8750 hours per year for traditional disk storage

Practical Implementation

ALTO from Disk Archive Corporation is a simple implementation of a tried and tested storage concept using non-linear disks to replace the linear tape media, bringing important performance & business benefits for Broadcasters and Media companies alike

About the Author


Alan Hoggarth is CEO and Co-Founder of Disk Archive Corporation.