Oracle just launched the T10000D tape drive with its incredible 8.5 TB of native capacity and LTFS-Library Edition (LTFS-LE), which expands the LTFS concept to an entire library. The Oracle T10000D has some neat features that I would like to address in the future, but today I’d like to talk about LTFS-LE since it really is a new concept.
LTFS is an open source specification for writing data to tape on single tape drives. It is supported by Oracle and other tape vendors. The version you can download from Oracle is called StorageTek LTFS, Open Edition (LTFS-OE).
When an LTFS-compatible T10000 or LTO tape is formatted for LTFS, it is split into two partitions. The first partition holds the metadata that tells the user which files are on the tape and where they are located. The second partition holds the files themselves.
There are a few nice benefits for those who utilize LTFS. Most important is the peace of mind that you will always be able to recover your data regardless of your backup application or any other proprietary software because it’s based on an open source specification. It also improves the portability of tape because two parties don’t both need the same application to read a tape. In fact, LTFS has seen tremendous adoption in industries that require the ability to transport large amounts of data.
The limitation with the open source version of LTFS is that it’s limited to just a single drive. Users with even the smallest archives would like to have their entire environment to be LTFS-based. That’s the impetus for StorageTek LTFS, Library Edition (LTFS-LE), but it also serves as a backup application eliminator because of how it’s architected. With LTFS-OE, after you download the driver, a tape looks like a giant thumb drive. LTFS-LE makes the tape library look like a shared drive with each tape appearing as a sub-folder. It’s like having a bucket full of thumb drives that are all accessible simultaneously!
Just as before, you don’t need any additional applications to access files. And end users are almost completely abstracted from the nuances of managing tape. All they need is a Samba or CIFS connection and they have access to the tape library. LTFS-LE is agnostic to corporate security architectures so a system administrator could make some folders (tapes) available to some users while restricting others based on corporate security guidelines.
However, security is arguably one of the more straightforward considerations when deciding how to integrate an LTFS-LE implementation into your environment. An additional consideration is to ensure that LTFS-LE can meet your performance expectations. Tape drives are remarkably faster than they are given credit for (the Oracle T10000D can write at 252 MB/sec.), but sometimes networks aren’t designed to handle that much traffic so performance requirements need to be considered accordingly. In addition, it may take some time before a read operation actually starts as the library needs time to mount a tape. As a result, system administrators need to be cognizant of how end user applications will accept response times from any tape storage-based solution.
A final performance consideration is to be aware of how many tape drives are in your library relative to how many users may be accessing files directly from tape. If you have a disproportionately large number of users you may want to consider a more traditional enterprise-level archiving solution such as StorageTek Archive Manager (SAM), which writes files based on the Tape Archive Record (TAR) open source standard.
Ultimately, LTFS-LE provides exciting new opportunities for system administrators looking to preserve files with a format that isn’t dependent on proprietary solutions. It also makes it easy for users who need access to large amounts of storage without a lot of management difficulties. Support for LTFS continues to grow. Oracle is actually one of the co-chairs of the SNIA committee that’s working towards standardizing LTFS. And this is just the start for LTFS-LE as well, as Oracle will continue expanding its capabilities in the near future.
picture of 2008 Harley Davidson FXSTC taken by Rick Ramsey