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flape2Let’s start with a show of hands: How many of you have heard or seen the term “flape”? What is it? According to the Urban Dictionary it is (1) a combination of a cape and a flag, or (2) the act of grabbing and twisting a nose or other body part. It is not, as some think, a peculiar type of ape that dwells in the swamps of Florida.

If you guessed that it was a storage strategy that includes the use of flash and tape, congratulations. Consider yourself flaped.

A Flash-Based Table of Contents for Tape

To give credit for silly technology terms where credit is due, the term was first coined by David Floyer, an “analytical wonk” (The Register) from Wikibon, in a paper entitled “The Emergence of a New Architecture for Long-term Data Retention”. To paraphrase Mr. Floyer’s description, the approach entails extracting metadata that is buried within files stored on tape (like you would extract chapter titles from a book to build a table of contents) and storing it on a flash layer. The metadata on the flash layer will signal the location of the desired content on the tape. But why bother?

According to IBM Master Inventor and Senior IT Specialist Tony Pearson from the venerable Tucson lab, “Flash and tape technologies are improving over 40 percent year-to-year, but disk is slowing down to 20 percent improvement. It is possible to combine IBM FlashSystems and tape storage systems, such as IBM LTFS-EE or IBM ProtecTIER TS7600 series" for a complete IBM storage management system.

Data Center Savings to Take Seriously

It is this performance discrepancy, or rather the discrepancy in the improvement of performance year over year, that is the crux of the value proposition for flape. Tape is not only cheaper than disk, but is actually faster than disk for streaming large files. In the meantime, the cost of flash storage is almost on par with the cost of disk, so the cost of storing metadata from tape in flash is comparable to storing it on disk. While it is true that “time to first byte” is slightly slower with a flape system than disk, the nature of the data usually stored on tape doesn’t require lightspeed access, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

IBM Business Partners The cost-saving potential of flape systems is significant. Mr. Floyer estimates that flape, when used for long-term archiving can save IT departments as much as 300 percent of their overall IT budget over the course of 10 years. But he also points out that his forecast is not without risks. “The tape industry has been slow to capitalize on technology progressions and its marketing has been weak. Tape vendors must seize this opportunity by creating flash-based systems, positioning them for long-term data retention and making tape relevant to the future of enterprise IT.”

Pundits have been forecasting the demise of tape-based storage for years, even while tape technologies outpace improvements in HDDs. Flape, despite its goofy moniker, may breath new interest into tape-based archival strategies for large data pools. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of flape, contact your local IBM Business Partner and ask about the IBM LTFS-EE or IBM ProtecTIER TS7600 series. Ask about flape at your own risk.

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Written by IBM BP Network