IBM’s Diamondback Tape Library: Secure Archive Storage for Hyperscalers

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  October 26, 2022

Data storage innovation often gets short shrift in technology discussions where it is simpler to focus on the continual advancements of silicon, chipset and system solutions. But the fact is that improvements in storage capabilities like capacity and data read/write speeds are comparable to or even greater than what compute performance has achieved.

Plus, effective data storage is vital to the success of virtually every enterprise and industrial solution and service, including cloud and hybrid computing, big data and advanced analytics. Storage innovations have also enabled the evolution of new types of hyperscale businesses, such as cloud service providers, life science research and development and large-scale healthcare providers. At the same time, creating, storing and accessing massive troves of data also carries substantial challenges and risks.

Those and other issues make IBM’s recent introduction of its new Diamondback Tape Library both timely and intriguing.

Hyperscale enterprises: Challenges and opportunities

What kinds of challenges do hyperscalers face? The value of information makes enterprises targets for cybercriminals, with large businesses offering more lucrative exploits. Cyber thefts of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of digital assets have, understandably, put companies and business leaders on edge.

That is hardly a surprise since cybercriminals, ranging from organized gangs to state-sponsored hackers who act with seeming impunity have brought numerous organizations to their knees. Air-gapping storage systems—physically isolating them from networks that might be exploited by cybercriminals—is an established means for protecting sensitive or valuable data.

In addition, without robust, resilient data storage, businesses can become hostages of their own data riches. That is especially true in industries that are highly regulated and where companies are held to strict compliance standards relating to the retention, security and privacy of business data and records.

The larger the volumes of information involved—and it isn’t unusual for large banks, financial firms, healthcare providers and government agencies to store hundreds of petabytes or even exabytes of data—the greater the challenges businesses face in both managing and ensuring their information complies with industry and government regulations.

Finally, global environmental concerns are pressuring businesses worldwide to rein in energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprints. While those goals are laudable, they also require hyperscalers to cautiously consider their technology strategies and purchases. Over time, magnetic tape storage has become a solution many hyperscalers prefer for processes, like data replication, backup and recovery and long-term storage and archiving of business data, including compliance-sensitive information and files.

Why is that the case? Most organizations build their storage purchases according to how solutions’ price/performance complement the types of information being stored and used. Blazing fast, highly scalable solutions are typically reserved for business-critical applications and data, like new product orders, shipping details, retail purchases and credit card transactions.

Information that is “cooler” or “colder” (in terms of immediate demand) is placed on relatively slower, often hugely capacious systems. Magnetic tape emerged as a solution that provides businesses all the features, functionality and performance they require while consuming far less power than spinning disk and flash storage systems.

IBM’s Diamondback Tape Library

How does IBM’s new tape offering address these points? The company describes the Diamondback Tape Library as “a high-density archival storage solution that is physically air-gapped to help protect against ransomware and other cyber threats in hybrid cloud environments.” The new solution was designed in consultations with ~100 hyperscalers, including “new wave” organizations and the Big Five hyperscalers.

IBM notes that Diamondback is designed to provide hyperscalers the means to securely store hundreds of petabytes of data, including long-term archival storage with a significantly smaller carbon footprint and lower total cost of ownership than disk and flash solutions. According to the company, IBM Tape solutions are approximately one quarter the total cost of both spinning disk storage and public cloud archival services.

Individual IBM Diamondback Tape Libraries fit in the same 8 square feet floor space as an Open Compute rack (a 42U, 19” rack). Systems can be ordered fully loaded with LTO-9 tape cartridges and are fully compatible with IBM Ultrium 9 tape drives which can increase total capacity by up to 50 percent compared to IBM Ultrium 8 technology.

Systems can be deployed in less than 30 minutes and individual libraries can support up to 27 PB of raw data or 69.5 PB compressed data. Customers can also store exabytes of data across multiple Diamondback tape libraries using erasure code software available from IBM and as open source.

Like all IBM storage solutions, Diamondback Tape Libraries support IBM Spectrum storage applications, including IBM Spectrum Archive, and can also be equipped with data encryption and write once read many (WORM) media for advanced security and regulatory compliance. IBM Services are available for deployment, management and support. IBM Diamondback Tape Libraries are generally available for purchase now.

Final analysis

Storage media solutions from punch cards to magnetic tape to floppy disks to hard disk drives to optical disks to flash or thumb drives to solid state drives (SSDs) all had their time in the sun, often simultaneously. Outside of specialized use cases, most earlier storage media technologies like punch cards, floppy drives and optical storage have mostly fallen out of favor for business storage.

However, enterprise tape solutions, including tape drives, libraries and media have remained a steady and profitable business for well over half a century.

Why is that the case? Primarily because of continuing development and innovations by tape vendors, including IBM, FujiFilm and Sony. But it can also be argued that the flexibility and adaptability of tape storage systems and media have enabled vendors to craft highly effective tape solutions for emerging businesses and use cases.

IBM’s new Diamondback Tape Library is an excellent example of that process. The company has a long history of storage innovations, and robust, massively scalable tape storage has played a central role in IBM’s mainframe business for decades. IBM also has deep expertise in a wide range of enterprise computing processes and understands the business and technological needs of enterprise clients in ways that few vendors can match.

In other words, designing and building a tape storage solution powerful and capacious enough for organizations that regularly store, manage and access data in petabyte and exabyte volumes is hardly a stretch for IBM given its data storage experience and continuing R&D.

It is worth noting that the Diamondback Tape Library will also complement and benefit from the company’s other storage solutions and initiatives, from the IBM TS7700 Virtual Tape Library to the recent announcement that Red Hat’s storage portfolio and teams will transition to IBM Storage.

Overall, IBM’s Diamondback Tape Library qualifies as an example of what the company does best—create and supply new offerings that meet the often-daunting needs of traditional and emerging enterprises, including traditional and “new wave” hyperscalers

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