The world is generating and storing more archival data than ever before. That’s why cold storage is the fastest-growing segment in storage. There’s a major disruption underway. As more and more bits are stored, cloud providers are reinventing their architectures with accessible archives to manage all that data.

Why go cold?

As we enter the Zettabyte Age, the more data is stored, the more it costs. The largest pools of data are typically unstructured or semi-structured data, such as video footage, genomics data, or data used to train machine learning and AI use cases. Cold or secondary, storage is less expensive than hot, or primary, storage. It makes sense to store data that is not actively needed in pools of cooler storage at a lower cost.

The biggest consideration is how frequently you need to access the data, or how readily available you want it to be when do need it. Today’s cloud storage service SLAs are based on how often data needs to be accessed and how long a customer is willing to wait. For some cloud providers, data stored in a cooler tier might take five to 12 hours to access, whereas nearline data is stored in a warmer tier and available immediately but at a price.

Aside from cost and accessibility, the third factor is a psychological one. It almost goes against human nature to delete anything in case you might need it sometime down the line. You never know what data is going to be valuable later on.

Cold storage options to date

Until now, most secondary (cold) storage has been contained on either tape or hard disk drives (HDDs), with hot data moving to solid-state drives (SSDs). Today at least 60% of all digital data can be classified as archival, and it could reach 80% or more by 2025, making it by far the largest and fastest-growing storage class while presenting the next great storage challenge.

Tape is less expensive than HDDs but has much higher data access latency so it is a good option for cold data storage. If the value of data is related to the ability to access and mine it, there’s an order of magnitude difference between storing it on disk versus tape.

In other words, data accessibility increases data value. HDDs are evolving to next-generation disk technologies and platforms that enable both better TCO and accessibility for active archive solutions. Advancements in HDD technology include new data placement technologies (i.e. zoning), higher areal densities, mechanical innovations, intelligent data storage, and new materials innovations.

Future cold storage technologies

Hyperscalers, who house the largest pools of data, are looking for the most cost-effective ways to store the ever-increasing amount of data. Thus, new tiers are emerging for cold storage with IT organizations reinventing their archival storage architectures.

With long-term data storage moving to the century-scale mark – data that needs to be stored for 100 years or more – new cold storage solutions are in development, including DNA, optical, and even undersea deep-freeze storage.

As the data generation continues growing at incredible volumes, cold storage will prove integral to preserving that data at an affordable price and with longevity. Storage innovators are creating long-term data storage solutions that make valuable data accessible both in the near term and for generations to come.