Reducing IT’s Carbon Footprint via Tape While Improving Cybersecurity and Protecting the Bottom Line

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May 4, 2021

By Drew Robb, Guest Blogger

There is increasing pressure around the world to reduce emissions and lower mankind’s carbon footprint. It is up to the IT sector to do its part, and that means considerably lowering power usage. But that is easier said than done when you consider the statistics.

IDC predicts we will arrive at the mind-boggling figure of 175 zettabytes of data in the digital universe within 4 years. 175 ZB? Consider how long it takes most users to fill a one TB drive. Well, 175 ZB equates to approximately 175 billion TB drives.

The problem is this: how do you reduce IT’s overall power draw in the face of a massive and continual upsurge in data storage? Once 175 ZB of data exists, there is no possibility of containing electrical usage if the vast majority of storage is sitting on hard disk drives (HDDs). The only solution is to cure the industry’s addiction to disk.

Here are the numbers. Data centers alone account for close to 2% of all power consumed in the U.S., about 73 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2020. That is enough to set off the alarm bells. Yet tremendous progress has been made over the past two decades in terms of data center efficiency. When power consumption in data centers soared by 90% between 2000 and 2005 period, the industry acted forcefully. The rate of growth slowed to 24% between 2005 and 2010 and then fell to less than 5% for the entire decade between 2010 and 2020. That’s miraculous when you consider that it was achieved during a period that represented the largest surge in storage growth in history. Smartphones, streaming video, texting, multi-core processors, analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud storage, big data, and other IT innovations demanded the retention of more and more data.

Big strides were made in Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE – the ratio of data center power consumption divided by the power usage). Data centers have largely done a good job in improving the efficiency of their operations. But the one area lagging badly behind is storage efficiency.

Storage accounts for about 19% of total data center power usage. And while data centers were implementing more efficient cooling systems, deploying power monitoring systems to prevent waste, optimizing the design of data centers, and adopting other measures to bring down PUE, the storage sector was largely neglected. At a time when rapid progress has been made on most fronts, power consumption for storage is actually rising. The villain of the piece is the HDD – the status quo has caused many to just throw more disks at the storage problem.

Cure the Disk Addiction

With disk storage spiraling to new orders of magnitude (the hundreds of ZB range), the irresponsibility of adding yet more disk arrays becomes apparent. If IT continues in its disk addiction, power usage will literally spin out of control.

The solution is to move inactive data to tape. The Tape Storage Council asserts that at least 60% of data is rarely or never accessed – and perhaps as much as 80%. Transferring even just a portion of this data to tape will drastically lower data center energy usage and overall storage costs due to tape’s low TCO.

Most data, after all, becomes dated within a few days. Consider how many of your old emails you ever look at. Typically, they are viewed once and thereafter ignored. It’s the same with most data. Emails, social media posts, and web traffic are generally viewed at a specific moment in time and that’s the end of it. Therefore, anyone serious about reducing emissions, lowering the carbon footprint of IT, and improving data center efficiency, should review the extent of disk addiction in the organization.

Yes, a certain amount of data needs to be retained on solid-state drives (SSDs) and HDDs. But after 30 days, 60 days, or whichever time period or parameters apply to a specific organization, inactive data needs to be migrated to a more energy-efficient tape backup or archive tier.

Fast Access to Tape Archives

One common misconception about tape storage is a slow time of retrieval. The vendors that comprise the Active Archive Alliance have devised an intelligent data management solution whereby data residing on tape cartridges can be accessed relatively quickly. Instead of emailing a provider to request a tape from a vault, the latest tape archive systems are nearline – data on tape is available in a couple of minutes.  IT doesn’t have to go into some obscure application to be able to access tape data. Instead, the tape information is represented as another drive within the overall system. Files can be searched for and retrieved. And the big plus is that no electricity, power, or cooling energy is consumed while tapes are idle. As a bonus, an air gap exists which cyber criminals can’t penetrate when the cartridges are retained offline.

So while the pressure around the world on IT operations only increases, tape is the right answer for energy conservation, bottom-line cost savings, and as a cybersecurity measure against ransomware.

 

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