Constructing the Century-Long Digital Repository: How to Archive Data for 100 Years or More

April 5th, 2024 by By Matt Ninesling, Senior Director Tape Portfolio Management at Spectra Logic

Data retention periods are increasing across various sectors. This trend is driven by a combination of factors, including legal requirements, technological advancements, and the growing value of data for business purposes. Organizations are struggling to determine what they can get rid of and what they need to keep. So, they tend to hold onto most of it. After all, a lot of that data could potentially be monetized in the future, even if there is no apparent use for it today.

Thus, the concept of the 100-year or forever archive is emerging. Archiving data for 100 years requires careful consideration of long-term storage options. Any archive that will last such a long time necessitates a reliable and secure long-term data storage infrastructure, which is good news for tape.

All storage media are susceptible to environmental damage and degradation over time. Over a 100-year period, data will need to be migrated to new systems many times throughout its lifecycle. One of the benefits of tape is you don’t migrate to new media every three to five years, as is the case with disk. Typically, you will migrate from one tape to another in a 10-to-15-year period. That’s a significant cost advantage over disk.

The long-term preservation of data is not the only concern for a century-long archive. The need for better access requirements presents major hurdles as organizations seek to ensure the future usability of their data. Fortunately, tape has embraced all the latest storage technologies. For example, you can use a standard S3 object interface to tape. This approach allows you to use tape just like you would the cloud, making it far easier to place data in an active archive and retrieve it again in a timely manner. Static data can then be recovered from tape as rapidly as it is recovered from the cloud. Yet, it remains onsite and can be kept economically for long periods.

By the same token, LTFS offers an open standard on tape. It is a way to write data to tape that avoids any future vendor lock-in. If you are looking to keep data for a century or more, this approach avoids being beholden to a proprietary format that is no longer supported, which could mean an inability to read that data in the future.

Tape’s Durability and Reliability
Durability, too, is a big advantage of tape. An imperative, if data is being retained for lengthy periods. Tape is also reliable. LTO-9 suffers from only one incorrect bit written in every 11.4 million PB, making it a hugely reliable data source. If you make two or more copies of data, you will almost never lose data.

Now factor in the air gap advantages of tape. By placing tape cartridges offline – either in a vault or within an automated tape library – the business gains resilience from ransomware and any other kind of attack. A second copy of data is secure and recoverable in the event of a disruption. Ejected tape media can also be sent offsite to another location for true disaster recovery.

While tape has been in use for almost 70 years, it remains an attractive media from an archiving standpoint. Its roadmap and continued innovation have made tape storage a reliable platform that can be used for many years into the future. The LTO roadmap calls for tape capacities to double with each new generation, extending the format from the current LTO-9 generation up to at least LTO-14. This will add massive amounts of capacity and performance. From LTO-9’s current day 18 TB native capacity (45 TB compressed), LTO-14 will ramp things up to 576 TB native and 1,440 TB compressed. There is no doubt that tape will endure as the most cost-effective storage available for long-term data at scale.

You can find out more about emerging use cases for active archives by listening to the recordings of the 2023 Active Archive Virtual Conference.

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