Virtualization Backup: Tape Still Around

In a recent set of announcements, the virtualization backup and data protection companies have announced support for tape. Tape has always been supported indirectly by virtualization backup companies such as Veeam, Quantum, and PhD Virtual as well as directly by Symantec, HP, CommVault, etc. It is interesting to note that there is a convergence on tape support using two distinct methods. The first is to add support for tape libraries directly into their products: Veeam. The second is to add tape support by better integration with their existing product suite: Quantum. Even so, we know that tape still reigns for storing of large amounts of data. We just cannot seem to be rid of it, nor do I think we ever will be.

The addition of better tape integration into traditional virtualization backup solutions implies a realization that these solutions are now being sold into companies that have a large investment in existing tape technologies, whether hardware or licenses for software, and that to break into these organizations, the virtualization backup and data protection tools must also support tape. So, in essence, tape is a long way from being dead. Actually, it has been available since the beginning of virtualization backup tools through the use of  proxy servers. Figure 1, shows how tape and other archival storage medium could be used within a virtual environment.

Virtualization Backup Tape Integration
Figure 1: Virtualization Backup Tape Integration

Data comes into the virtual environment workloads one of two ways: from a virtual disk on a data store, or directly mounted to the virtual machine from a file server (btw, each of these should be segregated from the other for security and disaster recovery means). In some cases, even workload data can be presented through the hypervisor either as a psuedo virtual disk or via a pass-through mechanism. Which method is used determines the backup mechanism to use.

Data is backed up using direct mounts of virtual disks (hot add) to the backup proxy, use of agents, hypervisor network methods, or even introspective means within the hypervisor. Once the data is on the backup proxy it is written to the backup store and possibly written to tape (such as how Symantec Backup Exec, Symantec NetBackup, or Veeam write to tape). Alternatively, you can mount the backup store to a tape proxy, which then writes the data to tape. This latter method is generally what is used in most cases, as virtualization-specific backup tools have not traditionally included tape support.

These two approaches for writing to tape are what we see today. Where Quantum takes the tape proxy approach by integrating into the Quantum tape backup solutions, which present LTFS as the backup store for Quantum’s vmPro 3.1 solution. Veeam, on the other hand, is joining Symantec and the more traditional backup vendors to provide direct tape support where before they required the other approach from third-party vendors.

In addition, nearly all the tools mentioned previously can also write directly to a version of their own software within a cloud service. Is tape gone now that cloud is available? Not really, because the virtualization backup vendors had cloud support first; they have just added firmer integrations with tape, which tells me for virtual and cloud environments tape is here to stay, at least for archival purposes. Cloud may be used, but more for business continuity as well as disaster recovery reasons; for archival of high density data, tape still reigns. Which is chosen boils down to cost more than the technology; an existing investment will continue to use tape, while greenfield has better choices now.

How do you integrate archival media into your environment?