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February 9, 2023

Death, Taxes and Data Loss


This is the first of three blogs that will expand upon and address some of the topics raised by the video Gavin Free (of The Slow Mo Guys) posted on YouTube following his struggle to secure over 10-years of content, and how he turned to LTO to solve this challenge. Gavin is not alone, with many content creators whether they be small independents or large corporations having a similar dilemma. And in all honesty, we at Symply are helping to create the problem as we too sell large capacity disk arrays for use in production and post-production. These hard disk drive RAIDs get filled up with hundreds and thousands of hours of content incorporated in project data that includes high resolution and high bit-depth source files, as well as other related content that is only on an upward trajectory in terms of capacity requirements.

The problem of data management is essentially the same across many industries. The old adage relating to ‘Death and Taxes’ could equally be replaced with ‘Death and Data Loss’. The causes of data loss take many forms, namely corrupted media or file systems, failed drives or devices, malicious attacks, and even just user error. In the modern world rich with data there are said to be two types of people: those that have experienced data loss and those that will. Data loss is inevitable unless robust data protection strategies are put in place. So, what are the strategies to protect content?

It’s pretty important to quickly point out that ‘backup’ and ‘archiving’ are not the same thing. They are frequently confused and often referred to as different sides of the same coin. So, before we go on let’s cover why backup and archive are different.

A backup creates a copy of data so that the data can be restored in the event of data loss or corruption. A company may have multiple copies of the same data for backup purposes. Increasingly, flash or disk drives are the primary target for an initial backup but many organizations still use data tape (such as LTO) for secondary copies, taking advantage of key features of LTO such as WORM (Write Once Read Many) that makes the data immutable; meaning it cannot be changed once written. In addition, LTO provides an “air gap” to backups making them beyond the reach of Ransomware, whilst providing additional data security through encryption. LTO tapes are also small, extremely lightweight, and portable so second copies can be easily stored at different locations.

Data sets backed up to LTO tapes tend to be short lived and can be defined usually in weeks, or at most months in many usage models. Typically, at the start of a week a full backup of primary storage is carried out after which incremental backups are scheduled to ensure that any changes made are also regularly backed up. These incremental backups will continue until the end of the week when another full backup is made, and the cycle of incremental backups begins for the last full backup. Depending on data protection requirements full backups may be held for weeks or months. Once the backup set has expired, the LTO tapes are generally reformatted and used again for new backups.

By contrast, archiving creates a ‘master’ copy of a file, generally on a less expensive storage medium, such as LTO, or cold cloud tiers (in which data is ultimately residing on LTO). The act of creating the archive copy is used to free up the obligation to continue to back up the archived data, typically as it is older and no longer needed to be held on the primary storage device. By archiving old or stale data this permits the more efficient use of primary and backup storage systems. Best practice is to have at least two copies of any archived content to ensure resilience in the event of a copy being lost, which leads us very nicely into the next topic: the ideal data protection strategy.

The fabled 3-2-1 data protection strategy. What is it, and how should it be applied?

3: Always maintain at least three (3) copies of your data. So, in addition to your primary data you should have at least two other copies. Why? Well, the chance of something going wrong with three copies at the same time is a lot smaller than with two copies.

2: Store your copies across at least two (2) different storage mediums. It is not recommended to store copies on the same type of media. For example, you could put a copy on LTO and a copy on another hard disk, or a copy in a public or private cloud. If you are storing both copies on LTO, making sure the tape cartridges are from different manufacturers even protects you from any potential batch issues.

1: Store at least one (1) of your copies at an offsite location. It is highly recommended to keep at least one copy of the data away from the physical location of both the primary storage and the primary backup copy. Think about protecting against fire, flood, theft, earthquakes etc… LTO is ideal for this as it is high capacity and easily transportable, but equally valid would be public or private cloud storage.

Going a step further, due to the rise of Malware and Ransomware, many organizations are now adopting a 3-2-1-1-0 policy. The first three steps are the same, so let’s cover off the additional 1 and 0.

1: Keep at least one (1) of the copies offline. This means storing one of your copies completely offline with no active access or network connections so that if a hacker or person of malicious intent has accessed your environment, they have no access to your copy that is offline. Such an offline copy is called an “air gapped” backup. LTO is ideal for this, along with any public and private clouds that support ‘object immutability’.

0: Be sure to have verified the copies created have been made with zero (0) errors. Backups and archives are only meaningful if verified as being identical to the original data. Backups should also be monitored as part of a daily routine, and errors or inconsistencies solved as soon as possible. It is also important to perform restore tests to make sure everything is working as it should.

The key take home from this blog is the need to implement a robust data protection strategy, otherwise your data doesn’t really exist as it is at risk of being lost at any moment. LTO technology remains unrivalled in terms of cost for capacity, reliability, portability, and security, and continues to play a crucial role in data protection. But LTO tape solutions are being used increasingly more often as a complement to a disk, flash, public and private cloud-based data protection strategies. LTO provides the most cost-effective solution for creating multiple copies of data with its portability making it easy to transfer large amounts of data to different and offline locations as part of a robust 3-2-1 (1-0) data protection strategy.

In the next two blogs we will talk about other mediums for data protection, address the misconception that “tape is dead”, and look at the best practices around media handling.


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