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.

3 comments

  1. Excellent post. I’d be curious to see a true cost breakdown for maintaining hard drives versus tapes, including the human resource factor. In tape maintenance you inject an element of danger as you add people into the picture. Even the most competent of individuals can create failure in the tape backup and storage system.

  2. Sounds like tape bashing or that tape does not help you sell your services (I guess electronic vaulting does).

    The tape economics are real. Here are some general rules of thumb:

    Tape cost about $.13/GB & disk costs about $1.25/GB (add replication and multiply this cost be 2 or $2.50/GB)

    Now add in the cost of replication software and bandwidth.

    Tape is approximately 25X more energy efficient than disk (2x multiplier for 2 arrays)

    Question: With SOX retention of 7 years, do you really want to pay 25X for electricity so that your data spins on disk? Healthcare has certain regulations that require data retention for the life of the patient plus X years. Is disk the answer? Heck NO!

    Your readers may want to get advice from someone who is non-biased on if a D2D, a D2T or a D2D2T strategy is right for them.

  3. I guess if you sell tapes for a living you definitely would have that view. But, after talking and working with many companies who run their own data centers, 100% of them would like to reduce the amount and management of tapes. I am not in the disk nor tape business anymore. I am just merely trying to help Data Center professionals. Now! This might be a great avenue for you to help change their minds. If you have technology that will lower their costs (not just per GB) but the Total Cost of Ownership then the road is paved for you. Most of the Data Center professionals care more about the exponential growth of tapes and the time it requires to manage them. Time is money.

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