Are you using pandemic-prone 1956 technology in your IBM i environment?

magnetic tape IBM i

Tape backups are still widely used in IBM i environments, yet they are putting businesses at risk because tape is outdated technology that is no longer fit for purpose. It relies on numerous manual processes that are at risk of human error and increases the potential for Covid-19 infection

Tape cartridges have been superseded by VTL (Virtual Tape Library), a method which is faster, sending your data offsite in seconds without human intervention. This reduces the risk of data breaches and Covid-19 infection.

Slow to change

Tape has been around a long time. In 1928, Al Jolson topped the charts, Morris Minors rolled off the production line, and magnetic tape was born, initially used for audio storage. It was an alternative to vinyl records, but never really equalled the popularity of vinyl.

Later, in 1956, Elvis released Heartbreak Hotel, and IBM started using magnetic tape to store a massive 2.3MB of data. Richard Wesley Hamming invented the parity bit in 1950, so that system administrators could understand how much data had been lost when stored on removable media. This proved invaluable because tape was known to degrade, leading to a loss of data. Only the size, shape, and amount of data has changed since then. 

This is impressive longevity; however, it is safe to say, like most technology from the 1950s, this legacy media is now no longer fit for purpose.

Heartbreak Hotel
Heartbreak Hotel was released the same year as magnetic tape was first used to store data.
Very much a distant precursor to IBM i
IBM model 726, the very first tape drive storing 2.3MB.

Why is tape is no longer fit for purpose?

Backups are slow because data is stored at the speed of a rotating cartridge. Restoring from tape is slow for the same reason, and the data you need is almost always on the wrong end of the tape. It is also prone to failure as it relies on series of manual processes. Last year, 90% of the UK’s data breaches were down to human error. Almost half of UK businesses reported data breaches or attacks for 2019.

Pandemic prone

Tape requires a whole bunch of manual processes, lifting them from cases or storage, into tape drives, and taking them down before they get overwritten. Then they are moved in vans to and from (hopefully) temperature-controlled storage.  Another worry is that people doing these manual tasks are prone to infection.

Moving multiple and probably unclean items to and from data centres. One tape handled by another person and then the next. The handling of this media makes the handler prone to the risk of infection. A study from medical journal The Lancet has shown that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes the Covid-19 diseases) can survive on plastic surfaces for up to six days.

Prone to human error

Another study showed that human error was the root cause behind 88% of data breaches in the UK. The most common error reported in the study, was sensitive data being sent to the wrong recipient. This was the cause of 37% of reported data breaches. Something which is easily done when moving tapes around, with 5-6 manual moves of the tape for each cycle. Since the introduction of the Data Protection Act 2018 (the UK’s implementation of GDPR), this could leave businesses with hefty fines. In a world where 3 billion items of personal data are exposed each year, that’s a risk we can no longer take.

The journeys of magnetic tape to IBM i
The journeys of tape.

What’s the alternative?
Virtual Tape moves away from manual, mechanical and outdated technology to encrypted, rapid, automated storage that saves money. The benefits are numerous:

  • No degradation
  • Less risk of infection
  • A reduction in storage costs as data is compressed
  • Rapid handling speeds of up to 40TB an hour
  • No more tapes eaten by your tape drive
  • No need to pay to maintain tape drives

This means your servers now run production applications for longer and backups less frequently.  Your backup window shrinks, and your production window grows. Your precious data becomes secure and encrypted, leaves your site in seconds.

When your company needs to recover from a disaster, you need speed and reliability. With media that doesn’t degrade, stored on disk in a highly redundant architecture, ensuring it will work every time. Restores are as fast as moving files from disk, and moving single files are drag and drop.

magnetic tape in the cloud, via Blue Chip

Virtual Tape saves money and introduces many day-to-day efficiencies:

  • Replicates many tape drives at once.
  • Lower your costs as you don’t have to buy or maintain expensive tape drives.
  • Makes your data safer, through removing need for human intervention
  • Data is copied instantaneously offsite
  • HA and DR performs faster, as you’re not waiting for a reel to rotate
  • Full automation, removing the possibility of human error
  • Reduce storage costs

To summarise, Virtual Tape is modern, efficient, fast and ready for the future, not the past.

VTL on IBM i

This is a truly universal solution wherever you use tape to store data, working particularly well on the IBM i platform. VTL integrates fully with IBM i’s native backup tools and is non-disruptive, working from day one without requiring any restructuring of your backup regime.

Under IBM i, we can achieve a deduplication ratio of up to up to 70:1, which is a massive saving on stored data costs. It’s also incredibly fast, proven to achieve speeds of up to 40TB an hour!  VTL also encrypts the data in flight, which adds higher levels of security. Another advantage is faster Initial Program Load (IPL) bare-metal recovery. When used with Blue Chip’s enterprise class HA and DR services, you have the best solution for when problems strike.

How to move to the present

All of this is powered by experts that may still play the odd Elvis record, but they manage the technology that fits the present  and the future. If you want to understand how to move from an unsafe outdated legacy technology to a fully automated, infection proof, futureproof solution, contact us now.


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