Virtual tape libraries gain popularity as a cost-effective long-term storage solution. They can use private and public clouds and on-premise infrastructure. Find out more about how a VTL works before deciding to use it for your storage needs.
For a long time, physical tape libraries were the only option for companies looking to archive their sensitive data. With the introduction of fast and affordable virtual tape libraries, many business owners started to migrate their data into the new environment. But should you choose a VTL over your tried-and-true physical tape storage? Let’s find out.
What Is a VTL?
In short, a VTL is a logical representation of its physical counterpart. It virtualizes all the parts of a regular tape device, including drives, slots, data cartridges and even robotic manipulators that handle tape cartridges. Users operate a virtual tape library system the same way they would work with a physical one. VTLs use legacy protocols and standard backup and recovery software that was designed for physical tape libraries alongside their modern counterparts..
Whether you decide to transfer your data from a tape library or other storage to a VTL or run your VTL as a “backup of a backup,” the transition should be fast and easy.
Commonly,Modern virtual tape libraries run on SATA disk arrays and use standard x86 architecture. Unlike physical tape machines, they don’t require sophisticated hardware and can be scaled up by adding a few more commodity HDDs, enclosures and cabinets.Cutting-edge versions exist, too..
From a software perspective, the virtual tape environment is stored on top of the file system host. The data is divided into logical tape drives in the virtual layer. The drives can be further combined into storage groups and volume pools. Your regular backup server (or servers) can be turned into a VTL host. Virtual tape libraries are file system-agnostic and can be used with multiple disk systems and data transport protocols.
You can create a heterogeneous hardware environment, but the end user will “see” the VTL as a unified space. You can also store multiple backups on a single VTL or use several virtual tape libraries to store different types of data.
VTLs work with all kinds of backup software. Some solutions are proprietary and need licenses to use, but many popular applications are free and open-source. There are also applications designed to work with VTLs specifically. In addition to standard backup and recovery features, they include export to tape, pass-through data restoration, and deduplication. Their use allows to reduce the backup window and speed up the recovery process.
History of the Concept
The idea of using virtualized hard disk storage to emulate tape libraries became popular in the early ‘90s. IBM was the first company to produce a commercial-grade virtual tape library in 1997. The solution was available for mainframe computers only.
Originally VTLs were a niche product. But the development of affordable high-capacity HDDs led to the resurgence of virtual tape libraries in the mid-2010s. Virtual tape storage became popular with IT companies large and small. The buffer size was increased to speed up the archiving process, and the disk-only environments that didn’t have to connect to actual tape hardware were introduced as well.
Deduplication has decreased the bandwidth needs and allowed to use VTLs with remote data centers and other off-site storages. Low-priced cloud storage and a simple setup process have led to a surge of cloud VTL offerings.
Today virtual tape libraries can work seamlessly with on-premise infrastructure, private clouds and off-site storages. They support modern data transport protocols like SCSI, iSCSI, and Fibre Channel, and legacy systems like SPI.
All big-name vendors, including Amazon, offer virtual tape libraries bundled with other services for data backup and recovery. VTLs are often used as a parallel storage option together with a physical tape library.
Storing Data in a VTL
Why choose a virtual tape library when writing data directly disk-to-disk is much faster? While this approach might look tempting, especially if you don’t have large data requirements, using a VTL is better in the long run.
- Disk-to-disk backups are complicated, and require manual retargeting or disk swapping. You are also limited to one disk at a time. With a VTL you can run multiple data streams and forget about retargeting. The system will chose the appropriate logical volume and then switch to the next.
- If you have decided to keep a physical tape library (and there are often laws and regulations that require you to do so), the disk-to-disk backup process becomes even messier. You will still have to use tape backup software to create a separate archive. And you will be left with no integration between your disk storage and the tape archive.
- By integrating your VTL with a regular tape library, you won’t have to run a separate backup process. You will be using the same software without having to pay for additional licenses or coming up with a “homemade” custom solution.
One The main selling point of a properly setup VTL is its tiny backup window. Businesses have to keep their applications running 24/7. Backup is performed during the off-hours, but if you have a lot of data, you will run our of time before your clients or employees will need to use the application again. Live backups are costly and can cause performance issues.
The other, strong selling point is the ability to choose cloud and object storage freely to emulate LTOs as virtual tapes while abiding by government data storage and archival requirements. VTL from popular VTL vendors are highly cost-efficient — and at this point in time — solidly secure solutions for backup-centric infrastructure.
VTLs provide much faster backup and restore procedures, allowing your important applications and databases to remain accessible and operational.
Benefits of Using a VTL
- Affordable cost.
- Can speed up backup/restore jobs.
- Can automate the entire backup process.
- Large disk-based buffer that enhances performance.
- Instant access to any virtual tape drive.
- Optimized storage capacity.
- Can use legacy backup software.
- You don’t need a dedicated IT-team to install and operate a VTL.
- Dozens of solutions from reputable vendors on the market.
Using a virtual tape library is great way to reduce time, effort and maintenance costs associated with long-term data storage. VTLs can be afforded by businesses of any size. Managing a virtual tape library is relatively simple and safe. If you need to improve your data backup process, consider trying a VTL solution.