Magnetic tapes have been used for more than 50 years to store data. Because tapes are inexpensive and mainly used for archiving and backing up, companies prefer this method by default. It may be a mature technology, but it definitely has its drawbacks. Here’s what everyone ought to know about the disadvantages of using tape backups.

Accessibility

Tape storage is accessed sequentially by scanning through the tape until the data you need is located. Think…rewinding and fast forwarding through an entire cassette tape to hear your favorite song. This is antiquated and slow compared to using disk drives. Also, tape storage adds infrastructure and management costs because you now need tape management software or special hardware to make this process faster.

Reliability

Each time you read or write to a tape, you take some of the lifecycle of that tape away. It’s like when we used to listen to cassette tapes. It sounded fantastic for the first few months, then it began to lose its quality. Sammy Hagar’s voice with Van Halen began to muffle over time. It just wasn’t Sammy!

Business Continuity

Tape drives must be kept handy to read and recover from tape storage. The disadvantage of this is now you have to maintain the drive and the tape and store them in a safe place. What happens if the technology becomes obsolete? Who is responsible for managing this and are you sure it will work in the event of a disaster?

You can test your drive and tape OR just pray when you need to restore. Wait! Testing reduces the lifecycle of the tape and leaves you with something other than the real Sammy. Not a very secure continuity plan, huh?

Cost

Most people would agree that tape storage as a media is cheaper than disk. However, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard…“ I have thousands of tapes to manage now when I only started with one hundred!”

Over time, companies obtain multiple copies of the same data. Tape requirements keep growing without end. So, you use more hardware and special software to try and alleviate this process. Hmmm…I think it would have been cheaper to invest in disks to start with.

*Note: If you’re a public company, Sarbanes-Oxley requires you to keep tapes for 7 years.

Process

How do tapes and drives work with your current processes? You probably restore to a hard drive on the application server (virtual or not). So, managing antiquated tape restoration on the latest server equipment can be daunting.

Also, the actual tape backup process takes a long time and will consume your network and slow down applications. Conducting backups during business hours is not a viable process.

No IT manager wants that call from his CEO asking, “What the (insert explicative here) is going on?” Companies have adopted the process of doing full backups on weekends or overnight when everyone has gone home. But what if you are a 24-hour shop or a global enterprise spanning multiple time zones?

I don’t mean to bash tapes, as there will always be a use for them. I believe the term is cold storage or archival. Use tapes as a method of backing up and storing data that is not critical.

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