More than 40 years after arriving in Tucson, computer giant IBM is still churning out innovations in data storage technology from its labs at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park.
And Big Blue’s Tucson engineers also keep its customers’ data secure in the ever-changing and increasingly dangerous world of cyberspace.
An example is the recently deployed IBM Diamondback Tape Library, a high-capacity archival tape storage system designed for organizations that need to securely store hundreds of petabytes of data, each equivalent to more than 220,000 DVD movies.
IBM says the main benefits of its Diamondback include low power consumption and high-capacity storage at around a quarter of the spinning cost of hard drives.
But its timely selling point involves an inherent capability of removable tape media: disconnecting data from the Internet and private networks vulnerable to online attacks.
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The ability to physically “isolate” data can help protect heavy users against ransomware – when a hacker blocks access to networks or data and demands a ransom to free it – and other cyber threats, IBM says. .
Calline Sanchez, IBM’s vice president of Tucson storage system development, said the company has worked with some of its “hyperscale” customers – companies like cloud computing services that store massive amounts of data – to help design the Diamondback.
“We decided to really work with our partners, our customers and our users and discuss what we want to do from an air gap or cyber resilience perspective,” said Sanchez, a former UA student who is also IBM’s state director for Arizona and her New Mexico native.
With data breaches and ransomware attacks now a constant threat, IBM says it’s seeing its big data customers increasingly turn to tape for data resiliency.
“From an air gap perspective, it detaches somewhat from the actual core infrastructure of a data center, so it’s self-contained,” Sanchez said. “It’s really this idea of storing durable blocks of data, where it’s not at all easily accessible, from the outside world.”
Need duct tape
While tape data storage was considered a declining technology years ago as faster hard drives and solid-state “flash” storage advanced, tape sales surged amid the seemingly endless data growth.
Sales of tape media for what is known as “Linear Tape Open” or LTO Ultrium – an industry standard tape technology provided by a consortium made up of IBM, Hewlett Packard and Quantum Corp., have increased d a record 40% in 2021 to reach 148 exabytes of capacity (one exabyte equals about 1,000 petabytes, or one billion gigabytes), according to the Silicon Valley-based LTO program.
LTO tape is arguably the cheapest and easiest way to recover from ransomware attacks, said Phil Goodwin, vice president of research at computer research firm IDC.
“Ransomware and malware are threats that won’t go away,” Goodwin said as part of the LTO program’s sales report. “Magnetic stripe is an established, understood and proven technology that can be an invaluable tool in defeating ransomware.”
Sanchez attributes the tape’s resurgence to its durability and power efficiency, as well as its ability to protect against cyber threats.
“It’s cheaper than other types of storage media like floppy disks or hard drives, as well as flash drives,” she said. “And that’s part of the reason why tape now primarily powers the back-end infrastructure of cloud environments.”
Technology Park Crucible
Like most of IBM’s data storage systems developed over the past four decades, the Diamondback was developed on the company’s multi-building campus at UA Tech Park on South Rita Road.
IBM built what is now UA Tech Park in the early 1980s to house storage system development and manufacturing facilities that employed some 5,000 people in 10 initial buildings comprising more than 1.3 million square feet .
As part of a major restructuring in 1988, IBM moved the manufacturing portion of the operation and nearly 3,000 jobs to San Jose, California, but maintained its storage research and development units.
The company sold its sprawling campus on South Rita Road to UA in 1994, but remained as a tenant.
Today, its storage development labs are still functioning well, with approximately 1,000 workers spread over more than 600,000 square feet in four buildings.
IBM’s local operation — which last week received the Major Innovator of the Year award at the Governor’s Innovation Awards ceremony — generates more than 400 patents a year, Sanchez said.
At the Tech Park, IBM develops and tests a range of storage systems and media, including disk, tape and flash systems.
Inside the Tech Park Building 9032 Reliability Test Lab, IBM engineers performed final tests on the all-new Diamondback tape library systems, which are about the size of a cramped refrigerator. , with rows of shelves holding palm-sized tape cartridges.
With a constant hum of clicks and roars, a robotic shuttle moves back and forth inside the Diamondback cabinet, ripping and mounting barcoded tape cartridges according to a preset schedule.
Each cartridge can hold 18 terabytes, or 1,000 gigabytes of data, and a full Diamondback contains 1,548 LTO cartridges, for a total storage of 27 petabytes that can be operational within 30 minutes of delivery, said Shawn Nave, an engineer in mechanics from IBM who helped develop the Diamondback.
A row of Diamondbacks was being tested last week, and like all lab-tested products, they will be put through their paces.
“As part of these tests, we run it until the wheels drop and see what happens,” said Nave, one of several UA alumni from IBM’s local operation.
A nearby building houses labs that subject IBM hardware to extreme temperatures and other environmental challenges, Sanchez noted.
As the world continues to generate more and more data, engineers and scientists at IBM’s Tucson-area site will continue to innovate to keep pace, said Sanchez, whose 22 years at IBM include a stint of a year in 2008 working for Nick Donofrio. , a well-known technology figure who led IBM’s technology and innovation strategies for a decade before retiring in 2008 after 44 years at Big Blue.
Behind the curtain
Sanchez compares IBM’s storage systems and services to the Wizard of Oz who hides behind his curtain, remaining invisible while making everything happen.
“That’s from a back-end infrastructure perspective what IBM provides – we make it easy for these companies because it’s quite easy to consume large amounts of data on these important systems,” said she declared.
“Where like right now in our lab, we’re not just talking about petabytes. We’re talking about how to serve exabytes (every 1,000 petabytes), as well as zettabytes (1,000 exabytes).
“Because we know that in a short period of time we’re going to have research institutions coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, Calline, we’ve exceeded our two petabytes of research data that we have in all research American universities, we need you to start building on the basis of exabytes or possibly zettabytes. And to me, that’s crazy.
IBM engineers are working to increase data storage and efficiency using artificial intelligence, which essentially programs machines to “think” like humans, but Sanchez doesn’t like the term.
“I like ‘augmented intelligence’ more, for the good of humanity, and the great thing about data storage is that you keep thinking in that direction,” she said. . “Because you have to understand the physics of how to store an immense amount of data created by people on this Earth and with devices like this.”
Contact senior reporter David Wichner at [email protected] or 520-573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz