Microsoft Calls Time on Their IBM Tape Drives

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Posted on Thursday, April 5, 2018

Microsoft has this week announced the retirement of the IBM TS3500 tape libraries used to power the Azure Archive Service. The decision appears to be a reflection of changes in the way that archive data is used by businesses.

Instead, Microsoft will replace their TS3500 tape libraries with a disk-based alternative. Dubbed “Project Pelican,” the plan is to deploy new racks containing 11.5Pb of disks each.

Project Pelican – bringing MAID back from the dead

More interesting will be the actual configuration of these racks. These will not be traditional always-on disk arrays, but instead configured to act like the now-defunct “Massive Array of Idle Disks” (MAID) model. Hard drives will only spin up when data stored on them is actually needed.

This MAID-like set-up offers several benefits over tape archiving. First, costs are reduced because disks remain idle until required, lowering energy costs. Second, data access times are improved, providing Azure Archive Service users with faster access to data. Finally, deploying disk-based technologies is simpler – Microsoft claims that tape enclosures “require special infrastructure in the data center."

Why Microsoft Azure is dumping IBM tape libraries

Traditionally, archived data is kept “just in case,” placed in cold storage for regulatory or legal reasons. It is increasingly common for Big Data projects to make use of archived data for machine learning and analysis. Which means that speed of access is becoming more important.

In many ways, Project Pelican is a cloud-based version of the multi-tier data storage strategy already employed by businesses. By redeploying post-warranty disk arrays, these organizations can replace IBM tape archives and increase data access speeds without new capital investment.

Two things are clear from the Microsoft announcement – data access speeds are important even at the cold-storage level, and the incredible data density of magnetic tape may not be enough to save the technology in the long run.

To learn more about multi-tier data storage and redeploying post-warranty storage assets, please get in touch.