I recently had the opportunity to visit a very unique data tape vault run by Vital Records, Inc. The location I visited is in Roxbury New Jersey, about an hour drive from New York City. What makes this tape vault known as VRI Roxbury, so unique is that it is 125,000 square feet of vault space situated between 30 and 50 feet underground. It was originally built by AT&T as a hardened command center bunker in the 1960’s. The facility is an intriguing blast from the past with relics of AT&T’s occupancy tastefully preserved. It was built to withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires or dare I say, a nearby nuclear blast. In such an event, AT&T could continue to support the telecommunications needs of its clients, including the U.S. Military. So no expense was spared in building what is truly an engineering marvel below ground.
Vital Records purchased the facility in 1995 upon its decommissioning by AT&T and repurposed the space for protection and preservation of valuable enterprise data, most often in the form of millions of removable/portable data and video tapes. To say that the facility is fascinating would be an understatement. It is however, non-descript, at least upon arrival. VRI Roxbury is discreetly perched in the middle of desolate woods, atop a slight rise in the landscape, some 1,100+ feet above sea level, with nothing but a nameless security gate, a freshly painted parking lot, and a small anonymous structure housing an elevator entrance to accommodate pre-screened visitors and authorized employees at any time of day, 24/7.
Truth be told, this was not my first visit to VRI Roxbury. I had toured the facility some 20 years earlier while working for another data tape manufacturer. And while the facility has kept up with modern innovations such as security protocols including iris scans, temperature and humidity monitoring, hi-def video surveillance, new and improved inventory management techniques, it still essentially provides the same services today that it did 20 years ago. However, given several critical market dynamics, these services are more relevant today than ever before.
So here are my top five reasons why data tape vaults are not going away, and in fact, thriving today.
The value of data has increased – compared to 20 years ago, the value of data has increased dramatically based on our ability now to analyze it, derive value from it, and make better data-driven decisions. With AI/ML tools, the more data we have the better. With today’s born digital content, multiple copies are required to safeguard assets that can be sliced, diced and monetized in almost limitless ways. Accordingly, a visitor to VRI Roxbury will notice racks of tapes emblazoned with logos of many of the major sports leagues, protecting the history of American sports. These entertainment power houses understand the value of their content from a financial and historical perspective and observe the best practice of well protected offline and offsite copies of their precious assets. Other high value data industries are well represented, be it financial giants, pharmaceuticals, state and local government, and educational institutions among others.
Data storage can be expensive – with the increasing value of data comes the proliferation of more data sources with increasing retention periods from what once was measured in years, are now measured in decades. In many cases retention periods are simply indefinite. The option of data deletion is less popular today for fear of underestimating the data’s value, so better to just keep it. Collectively, the data storage industry is now protecting multiple zettabytes of persistent data and that comes with a hefty price tag. Today data storage managers have a better understanding of data temperatures (hot, warm, cool, cold, frozen) and which tiers of storage can be cost-effectively utilized according to frequency of data use and access. For example, TCO tools show that moving cold and inactive data from expensive hard disk drives or even from long term storage in the cloud to automated tape libraries (including the cost of offsite vault storage) can reduce total cost of ownership by as much as 80% vs. disk and more than 70% vs. cloud.
Ransomware attacks not going away – it has been said that ransomware is just in its infancy and it’s not a question of if an organization will become a victim but rather when. So the whole IT industry has mobilized for almost a decade now to shore up its defenses against ransomware, network born viruses, data compromise and data loss. As such the defensive mechanisms against unauthorized data access and manipulation are multi-faceted starting with preventative measures that keep the bad actors from walking in the front door in the first place. At the end of the day, when all else fails, and it will in many cases, having a virus free copy of data offsite and offline is a best practice endorsed by the FBI, CISA and DHS. Furthermore, cybersecurity insurance underwriters just about require it.
For decades now, storage professionals had been following the 3-2-1 backup rule. That is to say 3 copies of data, stored on 2 different media types, with 1 offsite location to store backups. But with the emergence of ransomware, we now better have a copy of backups stored offsite, and offline with a true “air gap”. Hackers simply can’t attack data that is disconnected from the network. Under the original 3-2-1 rule, all the devices might still be online and connected to the network. Best practices these days would be a slight modification, to a 3-2-1-1 rule, namely 3 copies of data, 2 different media to store backups, 1 offsite location to store backups online, and 1 offsite location to store backups offline. At VRI Roxbury, not only is data securely stored offsite and offline, cell phones don’t even work!
Sustainability is now a priority in data storage – organizations across the globe are finally genuinely concerned about energy consumption, global warming, climate change and therefore, carbon footprint. 20 years ago, this was a non-issue. Really big SUVs ruled the highways and when more data storage was needed, an energy intensive disk array could simply be added without any thought. Today, we as a global society are scrambling to reduce carbon footprint and the associated negative impacts of climate change from extreme weather that has resulted in catastrophic events from floods to forest fires. When it comes to data storage, it’s helpful to simply move cold and inactive data from energy intensive 24/7 spinning disk to eco-friendly data tapes. Tapes consume no energy unless actively engaged in a tape drive, reducing energy consumption by 87% and reducing CO2e by 97% over the product lifecycle. Since 60 to 80% of data quickly goes cold after just 90 to 120 days, moving that data from energy intensive primary storage to automated tape systems with the option for an offsite, offline copy is quickly becoming an imperative for Chief Sustainability Officers who want to make a difference.
Tape technology is here to stay – magnetic data tape technology has evolved from the classic metal particles of 20 years ago tohybrid magnetic particles such as Barium Ferrite, Strontium Ferrite and in the future, Epsilon Ferrite. All with the ability to improve data density and archival life. Today’s highly advanced and modern tapes have outpaced HDDs with higher capacities, better reliability, longer life, lower cost, lower CO2e footprint and can be efficiently transported offsite for data protection including cybercrime protection and long term data retention. Current tape technology roadmaps provide the ability to plan data migrations for many decades yet to come.
So while walking into the VRI Roxbury underground tape vault is a bit of a blast from the past, it’s also a glimpse into the decades ahead where tried and true technologies and best practices are the lock and key to successful data storage protection and retention.
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Head of Tape Evangelism
As Head of Tape Evangelism for FUJIFILM Recording Media U.S.A., Inc., Rich is responsible for driving industry awareness and end user understanding of the purpose and value proposition of modern tape technology. Rich joined Fujifilm in 2003 as Director of Product Management, Computer Products Division, where he oversaw marketing of optical, magnetic, and flash storage products.
Previously Rich held the position of Vice President of Marketing, Commercial Products, where he was responsible for the marketing of data storage products, value added services and solutions.
Rich has more than 30 years of experience in the data storage industry. Before joining Fujifilm, Rich was Director of Marketing for Maxell Corp. of America where he was responsible for the marketing of data storage products. Prior to that, Rich worked for the Recording Media Products Division of Sony Electronics.
Rich participates in several industry trade associations including the Active Archive Alliance, the Linear Tape-Open Consortium (LTO) and the Tape Storage Council. Rich also manages Fujifilm’s annual Global IT Executive Summit.
Rich holds a BA from the University of Richmond and an MBA from Fordham University.
FUJIFILM Recording Media U.S.A., Inc., is the leading manufacturer of commercial data tape products for enterprise and midrange backup and archival applications and provides long term data storage products and software through its FUJIFILM Data Management Solutions team.
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