Ask your IT administrator what medium they back up all your data to and the answer is likely some form of magnetic tape storage. For many people that’d be somewhat surprising as the last time they saw a tape was probably a couple decades ago and it wasn’t used to store much more than a blurry movie or maybe a couple songs. However in the world of IT archiving and backup there’s really no other medium that can beat tapes for capacity, durability or cost. Many have tried to unseat tapes from their storage crown but they’re simply too good at what they do and Facebook’s latest experiment, using Blu Ray disc caddies as an archiving solution, isn’t likely to take over from them anytime soon.
The idea Facebook has come with is, to their credit, pretty novel. Essentially they’ve created these small Blu Ray caddies each of which contains 12 discs. These are all housed in a robotic enclosure which is about the size of a standard server rack. Each of these racks is capable of storing up to 10,000 discs which apparently gives rise to a total 1PB worth of storage in a single rack. Primarily it seems to be a response to their current HDD based backup solutions which, whilst providing better turn around for access, are typically far more costly than other archiving solutions. What interests me though is why Facebook would be pursuing something like this when there are other archiving systems already available, ones with much better ROI for the investment.
The storage figures quoted peg the individual disc sizes at 100GB something which is covered off under the BD-R XL specification. These discs aren’t exactly cheap and whilst I’m sure you could get a decent discount when buying 10,000 the street price for them is currently on the order of $60. If they’re able to even get a 50% discount on these discs that means that you’re still on the hook for about $300K just for the media. If you wanted to get a similar amount of storage on tapes (say using the 1.5TB HP LTO-5 which can be had for $40) you’re only paying about $27K a tenth of the cost. You could even halve that again if you were able to use compression on the tapes although honestly you don’t really need to at that price point.
Indeed pretty much every single advantage that Facebook is purporting this Blu Ray storage system to have is the same benefit you get with a tape drive. Tapes are low power, as their storage requires no active current draw, are readily portable (and indeed there are entire companies already dedicated to doing this for you) and have many of the same durability qualities that DVDs do. When you combine this with the fact that they’re an already proven technology with dozens of competitive offers on the table it really does make you wonder why Facebook is investigating this idea at all.
I’d hazard a guess it’s just another cool engineering product, something that they’ll trial for a little while before mothballing completely once they look at the costs of actually bringing something like that into production. I mean I like the idea, it’s always good to see companies challenging the status quo, however sometimes the best solutions are the ones that have stood the test of time. Tapes, whether you love them or hate them, by far outclass this system in almost all ways possible and that won’t change until you can get Blu Ray discs at the same dollars per gigabyte that you can get tapes. Even then Facebook is going to have to try hard to find some advantage that Blu Rays have that tapes don’t as right now I don’t think anyone can come up with one.
I’ve been drooling over the specifications of my next computer for well over a month now, tweaking bits here and there to ensure that the PC I end up building will provide the best value for money I can get. Sure there are a few extravagances in it like the Corsair H70 water cooling kit and the Razer Megasoma mouse pad but otherwise it’s a very respectable rig that will serve me well over the course of the next few years. The initial design I had in my head however failed to account for a few of the real world issues that actually building this system would entail, forcing me to make some tough decisions.
Firstly the case I currently use, a Lian Li PC-B20B, has a drive cage that only fits 4 hard drives in it. Sure I’d probably be able to stuff one in the floppy bay but its far from an ideal solution and it just so happens that the perfect place for the water cooling kit would be right smack bang where the hard drive bay currently is. I’m not sure how I stumbled across it but I saw this awesome product from Lian Li the EX-34NB which converts 3 of the front drive bays into 4 internal hard drive bays, complete with a fan. It was the perfect solution to my dilemma allowing me to have the 4 storage drives and the water cooling solution living together in my case in perfect harmony.
Of course then I asked myself the question, where would the SSD go?
The obvious choice would be in the floppy slot since I have 2 of them and neither of them are getting used, but I may have to remove the cage to fit the water cooler in there (it looks to be a tight fit from the measurements). Additionally the motherboard I’m looking at going with, the AsRock P67 Extreme6, comes with a nifty front bay adapter for a couple USB3 ports that doubles as a SSD mounting kit. This means though that I’d have to be giving up one of the longest lived components that I’ve kept for the better part of a decade, my dual layer DVD burner.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when I bought it but I do know I shelled out a good $200+ dollars for my little IDE burner, top of the line for its time. I can tell you one of the primary reasons I bought it however, it came with a black bezel that matched my gigantic black case perfectly. It was the perfect little work horse and whilst its dual layer abilities were only used a couple times when I forayed into the dark world of Xbox360 “backups” it still burnt many a DVD for me without complaint. It had also developed a curious little quirk over the years, opening with such force that it thought someone had pushed it back in after it had opened, causing it to promptly close. Still it functioned well for what I needed and it stayed with me through 2 full computer upgrades.
Thinking back over the past year or so I can only think of a few times that I ever really needed to burn a DVD for something, most of the time being able to cope quite well with my trusty little flash drive or network shares. Indeed many of the games that I bought either had a digital distribution option or were copied to my hard drive before attempting to install them. Whilst I’d be sad to see the one component that’s been constant in my computing life for such a long time to go I really can’t see a need for it anymore, especially when its taking up a potential mounting spot for my future SSD.
That’s not to say I think that optical media and their respective hardware are dead though, far from it. Whilst the cost of flash drives has come down significantly over the past decade they’re still an order of magnitude more expensive to produce than an optical disc. Indeed even in the lucrative server markets nearly all vendors still provide their updates and tools on CDs simply because the cost of doing so on a flash drive is just too high. Sure if you included the cost of the drive in that whole equation that might change matters slightly but like the floppy drive before it we’ve still got a good decade or so before optical media will be phased out of normal use, although it will still hang on for a long time to come.
It was an interesting realization for me to come to since optical media is the first format I witnessed being born, gain mainstream adoption and then begin to fade in obsolescence. Of course I’m still a long way from being rid of optical drives completely, my PC will be one of only 2 PCs in my house to not have an attached optical drive, but it is the signal that things are moving on and the replacement of flash media is ready to take the helm.
I’ll have to find a fitting home for my long time pal, probably in the media PC where he’ll get used every so often.