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AIT Tape: best long-term replacement for archival Magneto-Optical.

Magneto-Optical (MO) technology has enjoyed all excellent life cycle but now, after 15 years and five generations, its position as the best technology for long-term storage for critical digital records is coming to an end.

Sony announced last year that it was pulling the plug on future development of the MO platform, citing that its engineers had squeezed everything they could into the last generation at 9.1GB per dual-sided 5.25-inch disk. Now the race is on to develop and introduce the next optical disk platform: Sony, with a derivative of its soon-to-be-released Blu-Ray technology; and Plasmon with Ultra-Density Optical (UDO). Both formats are incompatible with MO, and with each other, and both should be hitting the market by the end of this year.

The stakes are high, especially for Plasmon, in trying to retain the claim to the "fixed content" archival market. The requirements for a solid, reliable, long-term storage media have grown substantially over the past few years, with new regulations and legislation driving the demand:

Financial Markets: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act and SEC Rule 17a-4.

Medical Records: HIPAA, DICOM and various state regulations.

Life Sciences: FDA 21 CFR Part 11.

(Similar regulations in Europe, Canada and Japan.)

The one thing that all of these regulations have in common is the requirement to store electronic information in a manner that prevents alteration or deletion of important records. These regulations recognize that today most of these records are created digitally, and there is no longer a paper-based original to fall back on if the validity of the electronic copy comes into question. Until recently, optical disk technology--whether CD, DVD, MO or 12-inch WORM--has been the only solution acceptable for all of these requirements.

But the other benefit that MO technology had when it was introduced in 1988 was its cost, compared to hard disk storage on a cost-per-megabyte basis. It made economic sense in the 1990s for a broad range of organizations to deploy an optical disk jukebox to store the growing amount of their data that was old and unchanging, but still important for access, especially in storage-intensive records management systems.

The capacity of MO disks has doubled every two to three years, effectively cutting its cost in half with each generation; but hard disk capacity increases and cost decreases have doubled at intervals of less than 6 months over that 15-year period. The Table shows the relative price per gigabyte of MO media vs. the price of mid-range hard disk and RAID systems during the past 15 years. The 2003 figure assumes UDO at a capacity of 30GB on a 2-sided disk, retailing at $45 per disk. The MO figures reflect media costs only and do not include the cost of drives, jukeboxes, software or maintenance contracts. Likewise, the hard disk figures do not include software or service.

MO technology is now at a severe cost disadvantage to hard disk systems, and therefore is only installed in those applications that need it to meet regulatory compliance requirements.

So, this brings into question the wisdom of continuing down the optical disk path. Yes, Blu-Ray and UDO will bring significant increases in capacity and decreases in cost over the retiring MO solutions, but they will not be overtaking mid-tier RAID systems when all costs of ownership (jukebox, media, software and maintenance) are put into the equation. Therefore, like MO today, these new optical solutions will be limited to the regulatory-compliance applications of the medical, financial, legal and life sciences fields, while failing to entice virtually all other mid-to-large-sized companies that are looking for a cost-effective solution to their long term archival storage needs.

And there is competition for the compliance market from other technology platforms. EMC is the first to enter the market with a hard disk-based solution, the Centera Compliance Edition. This product family starts at capacities where typical MO libraries have left off (4TB), but at a price per GB comparable to MO. Centera is enjoying good sales growth, according to EMC, but mostly in higher-end enterprises. It is clear that other top-tier and mid-tier manufacturers will soon be coming to market with other compliant hard-disk archive systems.

These systems still do not address the basic premise that older data isn't as valuable to a business as current data, and therefore shouldn't cost more to store. Centera CE costs a lot more than a RAID system with similar capacity, data protection and availability characteristics, simply because Centera is the RAID system with expensive software built on top of it. Centera offers exceptional performance, moving data at hard disk speeds, but is that really a necessity with data that is accessed very infrequently--if ever?

Sony AIT Tape to The Rescue

The answer that many organizations have turned to is Sony's AIT Tape. Introduced in 1998, AIT Tape meets the needs of today's data archival applications:

Low Cost: Extremely high capacities at extremely low cost is the first and most important qualifier that AIT Tape meets. With standard compression, the AIT-3 media costs well under US$1 per gigabyte. And with 100GB of uncompressed data on a small 8mm cartridge, AIT provides a data density advantage of more than 10x over MO, meaning it would take more than 10 MO jukeboxes to store the same amount of data as a similarly-sized AIT library. This, of course, translates into significant savings in hardware, software and media, as well as floor space, power and cooling.

High Performance: With a dual-reel cartridge and Memory-In-Cassette technology, AIT Tape provides very fast load and search performance (within 8 seconds to any file), and a data transfer rate that leaves optical disks in the dust (12MB/sec).

Data Retention: AIT's AME tape formulations make longer term data retention a non-issue, now reaching 30 years without the need to refresh or rewind the tape.

Regulatory Compliance: AIT Tape meets the regulatory compliance challenge with a write-once (WORM) tape cartridge that prevents any operation that would change or erase data that is already written on the tape. This cartridge employs both hardware and software features that identify it to the drive.

Roadmap: AIT is now in it's third generation, AIT-3. Sony has committed to taking the AIT platform through at least 6 capacity- and performance-doubling generations, or 800GB per uncompressed cartridge, providing customers with a long life cycle of backward-compatible improvements and investment protection. Sony has also expanded on the AIT technology with the release of SuperAIT (SAIT-l), a half-inch single-reel cartridge that boasts a native capacity of 500GB and will have a WORM version by the end of 2003.

Long-Term Archival

Long-term data archival is not limited so much by the data retention capabilities of the media, but more by the life cycle of the storage technology platform. Those who implemented MO solutions ten years ago have gotten a significant return on their investment, with the ability to read data written then on new hardware available today. But those who invest in new MO systems today will not be so fortunate. They will ultimately need to migrate their data to some other technology within the next few years, when their MO drives and jukeboxes start to wear out. It would be much more prudent to go with a technology that not only meets today's needs at significant savings over optical and hard disk archival solutions, but also promises to continue to grow and to be around in ten years.

Those users who currently have aging MO library systems already know that they face the difficult task of moving all of their data to another platform. Will it be to one of the new, unproven optical technologies; to the relatively expensive hard disk systems from EMC and others; or to the truly cost-effective, long-term solution offered by AIT Tape?

Sony's AIT Tape products, when combined with supporting libraries and management software, provide the best combination of cost, capacity, performance and retention compliance available on the market for archival storage needs.
Table 1

Year 1988 1993 1996 1998 2000 2003

MO
Media $138 $69 $35 $17 $10 $2*

Hard
Disk $5,000 $1,000 $400 $100 $10 $2

*Plasmon UDO media


Richard Vining is senior vice president of Business Alliances for the IT Alliance Group Inc. (Westborough, MA)

www.it-alliancegroup.com
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Backup/Restore
Author:Vining, Richard
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Aug 1, 2003
Words:1373
Previous Article:Image backup & disaster recovery.
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