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Archiving is dead

Archiving is dead
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Chris Gondek
Chris “Gonzo” Gondek

There, I said it. Archiving is dead. In fact, I’d argue that it’s been dead for some time. To be clear, though, I’m speaking about data archiving from a space management perspective, such as file system archiving. The concept of data archiving for long-term retention will probably be around forever. (We’ll cover that in another blog.) No, I’m speaking about a particular storage-related topic that will give most people who implemented these solutions back in the day serious PTSD—especially when I use the word stubs.

The ancient history of stubs

A stub is a very small file that effectively points to data that has been moved to a secondary storage location. Stubs played an integral role in file system archiving, but before I can explain why I’m talking about them, I need to explain why they were needed in the first place.

File archiving is part of a broader category known as hierarchical storage management (HSM). HSM has been around for almost as long as data itself, because primary storage media (typically high-speed disk) have a high price point and we human beings (and some applications) are sloppy with data management. We like to create tons of data, but we rarely, if ever, clean up after ourselves and delete useless data. And in some scenarios, we are encouraged or even required to keep everything and actively not delete any data—for example, for compliance reasons.

So file archiving was created as a way to intelligently move primary data to a cheaper, secondary location and replace it with a stub. If users ever need to recall the data, they click the stub and the data is recalled from the archive storage tier. In the very early days, that storage was predominantly tape devices (although I personally know of some instances still running out there today!). The next step was near-line storage such as disk for faster access to and recall of archived data.

When the solution is worse than the problem

Looking back to the days when a stub-based file archiving solution was used to move cold or stale data out to a cheaper tier and free up space on the expensive primary tier, it’s clear that the “solution” created more problems than it solved. The stubs were necessary because they were the only way for users or applications to know that the data was still there and accessible (via recall), but they had many challenges associated with various everyday data activities. Actions like copying and moving stubs would create havoc and either trigger unnecessary recalls or effectively “orphan” the stubs from their archived data when they were copied or moved. Also, daily activities such as backup jobs and virus scanning would appear the same as a user or application recalling the data, unnecessarily filling the disk and creating lots of recall jobs.

On top of all of this, most folks forgot, or didn’t realize, that the archived data was the only copy of the data, because the data remaining on the primary was only stubs. And the archive itself was never protected from accidental deletion or other data loss scenarios, resulting in the worst-case scenario—permanent, irrecoverable data loss. Space management wasn’t really that important for a while, because storage systems offered better performance and higher capacities at lower price points, negating the need for file archiving. That is, until most storage consumption became “pay per use” versus ownership/sunk cost, which is exactly how it is in the cloud.

Performance tiers still remain more expensive than secondary and tertiary retention tiers, so we’re back to a place where we want the best of all worlds: The ability to move cold or stale data out to the most cost-effective tier without the pain of stubs while maintaining a seamless user and application experience, both on premises and in various cloud environments.

Dump the cold data out to where it belongs, without the pain of retrieving it

At NetApp we have been working with and managing data across the different types of storage tiers for many years. Even with the evolution of a hybrid multicloud world, we have the same user experience through an “omnipresence” of the same capabilities. (For more information, check out my blog on the road to data immortality.)

To have the best of both worlds, we need the ability to intelligently and seamlessly automate the process of identifying stale or cold data, and securely and efficiently moving it to a more cost- effective tier. And it’s important not to impact the user experience or performance when it comes to retrieving that data (not necessarily moving or copying it back to the primary). On   top of all that, we need to be able to do it on premises and in the cloud hyperscalers, leveraging the appropriate cold storage tier, which today is typically object storage.

This is exactly what NetApp® Cloud Tiering is designed to do.

Cloud Tiering extends high-performance flash tiers located on premises (or NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP® in the hyperscalers) to the cloud by seamlessly moving cold data to high-capacity, durable, low-cost object storage tiers. And there’s no impact to the front-end applications and users of that data.­­

With Cloud Tiering, active (hot and warm) data remains on the high-performance tiers to meet the performance needs of the application. Cold, inactive data is automatically identified and tiered off to an object storage platform, freeing up valuable capacity on the on-premises storage array.

This arrangement gives us the best of both worlds without stubs, but I’m going to go even further, because this is ONTAP and we’re not just going to stop at cold data. We also do it for NetApp Snapshot™ copies! This is huge, because most businesses want to retain their Snapshot data for long periods of time without the premium storage consumption. Cloud Tiering can be configured to move cold Snapshot data or cold user data or both, a capability that is unique in the industry.

More importantly, because the tiered data is transparent to the user or application, retrieval is seamless. The data typically comes directly from the cold storage, thus never repopulating the primary, keeping consumption down and performance and user experience up. All while maintaining the cost-saving ONTAP storage efficiencies such as deduplication and compression within the cloud tier, which means that the cost savings are optimized on the object storage tier as well.

This service (like NetApp Cloud Manager) is completely hosted, operated, and maintained by NetApp, so you simply “switch it on” against multiple on-premises and cloud storage instances as needed.

Learn more

To find out how much you can save right now, check out our Cloud Tiering calculator. To get a taste of what I’m talking about, watch the video Introducing NetApp Cloud Tiering in 60 seconds or less.

Chris “Gonzo” Gondek

My mission is to enable data champions everywhere. I have always been very passionate about technology with a career spanning over two decades, specializing in Data and Information Management, Storage, High Availability and Disaster Recovery Solutions including Virtualization and Cloud Computing.

I have a long history with Data solutions, having gained global experience in the United Kingdom and Australia where I was involved in creating Technology and Business solutions for some of Europe and APAC’s largest and most complex IT environments.

An industry thought leader and passionate technology evangelist, frequently blogging all things Data and active in the technology community speaking at high profile events such as Gartner Symposium, IDC events, AWS summits and Microsoft Ignite to name a few. Translating business value from technology and demystifying complex concepts into easy to consume and procure solutions. A proven, highly skilled and internationally experienced sales engineer and enterprise architect having worked for leading technology vendors, I have collected experiences and developed skills over almost all Enterprise platforms, operating systems, databases and applications.

View all Posts by Chris “Gonzo” Gondek

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