Archiving: PoINT offers an S3 cluster made up of… tapes

PoINT, a German publisher of archiving solutions, will launch by October a new object storage system which saves its data on a cluster of disks and… tapes!

“Our idea is to offer on premises exactly the same thing that AWS offers online, with its S3 and S3 Glacier solutions”, explains Thomas Thalmann, CEO and co-founder of PoINT, about Archival Gateway – Unified Object Storage, the name of its software.

Like S3, very capacitive disks, cheap, but not very fast, store cold data. These are the ones that the company no longer needs to open, but that it opens all the same from time to time. Like S3 Glacier, tape is even slower than disk, but it’s also even cheaper.

PoINT claims to be able to restore files in milliseconds from disk and in minutes from tape. To determine which files should be on one or the other type of unit, the editor analyzes about fifty parameters, defined by as many rules.

For example, the user may want files of a certain type to migrate from disk to tape after 30 days of inactivity. That those of another type disappear from the archives after an expiration date. That others are recorded at the same time on the two supports, but maintained in the discs only during the period necessary for their analysis.

Compared to public cloud archiving services, PoINT’s solution ensures data stays within corporate walls. It is also more durable: the company owns its disks and tapes, whereas it would have to constantly pay rent to the cloud provider to keep the data online. Thomas Thalmann also mentions a cheaper price, better security, but lacks figures to illustrate these statements.

230 GB/s with only tape drives

The feat of the Archival Gateway – Unified Object Storage solution is above all technical: it is the first solution of its kind to write object buckets directly to tape.

Most other object storage products capable of archiving their content to tape do so in two steps: they back up their content and then save it in file format to a tape library. Not only is it slower, but more importantly, the data restored from the tapes is no longer in an object format. To find their metadata, their S3 access, they would have to be reinjected into the S3 cluster. That’s a lot of steps when a restore operation is usually conditioned by an emergency.

“With Archival Gateway, you can build an S3 cluster of eight tape libraries, each with eight drives running in parallel. As we do Erasure Coding at the band level [répartition des fragments de données sur plusieurs bandes, NDR], we parallelize the accesses. Ultimately, this solution, even without its hard drives, can reach a speed of 230 GB/s”, argues Thomas Thalmann.

In fact, Archival Gateway – Unified Object Storage is the second version of a product launched in Germany in 2018: Archival Gateway (for short). He had no hard drives, but tapes already.

“For our German customers, the novelty that we are announcing is just the arrival of tiering, with less latency on discs and about fifty rules to switch from one to another. For companies in France and elsewhere, on the other hand, Archival Gateway is a new S3 storage solution which, thanks to the infinity of tapes that can be owned, manages up to 50 billion objects per bucket.

Archival Gateway consists of gateway nodes that present S3 object storage to the network. Each of these nodes accesses a maximum of eight drives. The gateways are backed up by so-called database nodes. They are a maximum of four per cluster. They are used to index content, drive readers and run the solution’s administration console. All of these nodes can be virtualized.

A descendant of Philips and Sony

Behind these announcements, PoINT has a story worth telling. Its Archival Gateway product is a variation of a completely different archiving solution, the Everspan Gateway, which the publisher had developed for Sony in 2016. At the time, it was not a question of having a cluster tape drives, but 64 BluRay optical disc burners, for a performance of 18 GB/s and the indexing of 181 PB of data.

PoINT was all the more legitimate in the development of this solution since it had written a whole string of software for burning optical discs since the mid-1990s, including one, CDWrite, which had been a worldwide success under Windows. Before founding PoINT in 1994, Thomas Thalmann and his team worked at Philips, where they developed the principle of CD-R, the first recordable CD-ROM.

In addition to Archival Gateway, PoINT has been selling another storage product since 2007: PoINT Storage Manager. This identifies the production data on the network, those that remain open from time to time and the cold files that just need to be kept. Then, according to its analyses, it moves the files to different categories of storage bays and, at the end of the chain, archives them on discs or tapes.

PoINT Storage Manager has two originalities. The first is that it leaves symlinks on production arrays to the new data location, so users think their files haven’t moved.

” Attention ! They are not simple symbolic links in the Windows or Linux sense. These are links that use the proprietary APIs of a very large number of NAS (NetApp FAS, Dell EMC Unity FileMover, etc.),” warns Thomas Thalmann. “This system allows us, when a user wants to reopen a file, to gradually bring the blocks he consults closer to him. Our archives are immutable to resist ransomware. If the user changes the content, we generate a new archive that always uses the same link. »

The second originality is the very format of the archive: it is a disk image, with a complete UDF file system inside.

“To simplify, the usual archiving solutions will package your data in a .zip file or equivalent. The problem with a .zip archive is that you only have raw files inside. By packaging these files in a disk image, we archive with them their dates of creation, modification, reading and also their author and their access rights”, concludes Thomas Thalmann, congratulating himself on not having seen elsewhere a publisher who had the same idea.

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Archiving: PoINT offers an S3 cluster made up of… tapes

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