Cloud vs LTO

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Traditionally, media companies have used Linear Tape Open (LTO) for media back up as well as long-term archive. However, as the amount of data that companies produce increases and costs of LTO operation and maintenance continue to rise, companies are looking at alternative solutions.

With the added functions that the cloud has to offer, it has quickly become a favoured alternative across the board. Here we dig deep into the LTO vs Cloud storage options, looking at the benefits and downsides of each of these storage options and how you can ensure that your data is accessible, safe and future-proof as you start your cloud-migration journey.

Comparison of LTO vs. cloud based object storage

Limitations of LTO

Despite being the most widely used form of storage for video productions globally, the drawbacks of LTO are starting to come to light. Some of the major issues are:

  • Cost – operating and maintenance costs continue to be high, ageing equipment must be replaced
  • Time – the more drives you have, the longer it can take to retrieve data. There are also time-costs associated with upgrades, which can be made greater with the locking-in of the archive. Many companies delay this for as long as possible, causing a large amount of media debt
  • Complexity – older set-ups require more complex operating processes to ensure they work with evolving workflows
  • Future-Proofing – every 2-3 years a new LTO format is released, new formats can only read 1-2 formats backwards or forwards. Rewriting tapes to newer formats can take months of manual processes
  • Accessibility – designed for long-term storage, there are drawbacks for day-to-day searchability, easy access and retrievability options. The lack of rich metadata makes it difficult for quick searches
  • Maintenance – regular health checks must be carried out on the tapes – this can be time-consuming and often skipped over by companies.
  • Troubleshooting – issues and problems can occur at multiple levels – library, tape, software, MAM – creating complex and timely fault-finding workflows

    Cloud-Based Storage

    Many have started looking to object-based Storage either instead of LTO or as part of a hybrid solution. Some of the key features of object-based storage are:

    Limitless Capacity – having no hierarchy, object-based storage eliminates the need for traditional storage limits in both media file size and folder object sizes

    High Data Durability – “Erasure Coding” distributes information over multiple nodes in local and/or geographical locations. This means data loss is reduced to an infinitely small possibility

    Self-Describing Media – the integration of rich media into labels (tags) allows the complete tagging of media with rich metadata that follows with the file. Google-like tools can then search over impossibly large storage arrays to find media

    These features all offer a number of advantages over LTO, such as:

    • Infinite Scalability
    • Real-Time Access
    • Better Recovery
    • Search-ability
    • Interoperability
    • Lower Admin Costs
    • Future-Proof

    Challenges Associated with Cloud

    Once you’ve made your decision to embrace the cloud into some or all of your storage and archiving workflows, there are considerations that you need to be wary of.

    Workflow Challenges

    Time – transfer to the cloud is location and connection dependent. Slow lines can cause timely and disruptive workflows. Accelerated WAN can assist with this but the added costs of this needs to be budgeted for.

    Encoding – cloud and appliance lock-in can be created by propriety formats that some gateways generate

    Copies – to ensure that you aren’t duplicating content (and paying for the privilege!) you must have a constantly clear understanding of your data and what does and doesn’t need to be uploaded and stored in your cloud environment

    Operational Challenges

    Costs – Downloading material from the cloud can be expensive. When working out what plan is right for you and your team, you must first analyse your current data usage to work out how best to manage the required number of downloads and uploads across the year

    Predictions – It can be tricky to estimate the growth of your data and media within the cloud. Ensuring your plan has the flexibility to grow and contract as your levels of data do is vital

    Reporting – to mitigate again unplanned for costs, clear reporting of usage needs to be in place before the move to the cloud takes place

    Roles and Responsibilities – user accessibility, permissions and security are all factors that need to be pre-planned into the initial cloud set up

    Exit Plan – It’s important to know how or what you need to do should you choose to change your cloud plan/provider or migrate away from the cloud entirely. Will this cost you more? What is the timeframe?

    If you do make the decisions to go ahead and evaluate your storage location, you need to consider the costs implications. Will you be financially better off?

    So what are the options? LTO, Cloud or Hybrid?

    It really depends on your system’s age – a facility with LTO 8 is in a very different position to a facility with LTO 5. However, it is important to come up with a plan and, in most instances, building a hybrid environment offers the best of both worlds.

    In many companies we work with this usually starts with setting up a back-up of the WiP storage on the cloud, removing the need for nearline storage. Most of the time this highlights the benefit of the cloud without a significant outlay of money.

    Once confidence increases in the cloud, the next step is to put some time aside to understand the true Total Cost of Ownership for all three options – LTO, Cloud and Hybrid. The hybrid model creates an improved operational environment and provides a pathway forward should you decide to move exclusively to storing your data in the cloud at some point in the future.

    Total Cost of Ownership

    The only real way to evaluate and compare the costs associated with the different storage options is to define your benchmark parameters. Offsetting these parameters against a set time frame allows you to work out what option is the most financially viable for you and your business.

    Suggested Scenario Parameters

    • Timeframe
    • Media requiring storage
    • Current initial storage
    • Data to be transferred to and from the archive per day/week

    Capital Expense Analysis

    Ensure that the following line items are considered:

    • Hardware with a support contract
    • Nearline storage
    • Software Media Technology / Media Refresh
    • Support Real Estate / Data Centre Costs
    • Power and Cooling Offsite
    • Tape Storage
    • Tape Type
    • Data Compression

    Operating Expense Analysis

    The following operating expenses must also be thought through:

    • Daily Ops & Maintenance (should include planned downtime)
    • Data Recovery Costs
    • Data Access Cost

    The only real way to evaluate and compare the costs associated with the different storage options is to define your benchmark parameters. Offsetting these parameters against a set time frame allows you to work out what option is the most financially viable for you and your business.

    Will Cloud Storage Replace LTO?

    It is inevitable that at some point you will need to refresh your existing storage. Many of our customers with LTO 4 and 5 are already at this point. The cloud is not going away and with reduced costing from the likes of AWS and Microsoft Azure (Deep Glacier is now at $1 a TB!) it will get to a point that the total cost of ownership will favour cloud in more and more situations. With this in mind, and the monumental effort that migrating large archives will take, it is worth defining a cloud strategy now!

    Whether it is migrating everything to the cloud, implementing a hybrid environment or just calculating the total cost of ownership – Support Partners are here to support your journey –


    To find out more about how analytics can help you to make the most out of your cloud migration and storage, have a read of our guide to data-driven media production.