Victor Nemechek

Can we finally stop using magnetic tapes for Disaster Recovery?

Blog Post created by Victor Nemechek Employee on Sep 13, 2016

My first job out of college with Digital Equipment Corporation required me to load and unload dozens of magnetic tape reels every day.


Most of the time it was a simple procedure, but every so often the tape would come off the track or get jammed or break and then you would end up with a big mess of tape

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I was so excited when we switched the reel tapes out for cartridge tapes. They were smaller, easier to load and didn’t jam as often.

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But they were (and still are) a pain in the neck to deal with. They all had to be labeled, entered into a spreadsheet, and stored for recovery operations, Then some of them had to be boxed and tracked as they made the journey from the data center to offsite storage and back again 3 months later.

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That was back in the 1980s. For the next 20 years that was the way it was. Yes, the tape systems got faster and had more capacity but you still had to deals with all those tapes. And what a nightmare it was when you needed to retrieve data from tape. You think molasses in the winter time is slow? Try retrieving data from a tape backup with the Vice President of the company standing over your shoulder saying “Is it done yet?”


In 2005, the first Virtual Tape Libraries (VTL) systems, later called backup appliances, rolled out and dramatically improved backups. It was a revolution in data protection. By using disk instead of tape, backups were much faster and more reliable. And the use of deduplication kept costs down. At that point in time people started asking “Is tape finally dead?”


Now here we are 10 years later and tape still isn’t dead. Everyone uses Backup Appliances for Operational Recovery. Some even use it for Disaster Recovery by electronically replicating data offsite to another Backup Appliance. Yet there is still a bunch of IT organizations out there burning tapes and trucking them offsite for Disaster Recovery.


The next revolution is here and I am hoping (and praying) that it will finally end this nightmare known as tape backups. The next revolution is backing up to Cloud for long term data retention and Disaster Recovery.


There are three reasons why Cloud is better than tape: Reliability, Speed and Security.


Being mechanical devices with lots of complex moving parts, both in the drive and the media, tape drives can and often do fail. Tape drives are also susceptible to bits of dust and grit and the wear and tear caused by typical tape-based backup environments. This explains why reliability levels can seem to drop steeply in busy environments after only three years.


Underneath Cloud is the power and speed of disk. Lots of research and development are going into increasing the performance of Object Storage systems which are at the heart of most on-premise Cloud systems.


Cloud eliminates all the security risks of manual tape handling and helps avoid the high-profile legal cases linked to losses of backup tapes containing personal data.


What about cost?

The one redeeming feature of tape is that it is very inexpensive at about $0.02 cents per gigabyte. However, because of the use of advanced deduplication and other capacity optimization technologies, the price of Cloud storage is coming down fast and is now only about $0.033 per gigabyte.


So, can we finally stop using tape?

Yes! The revolution is on and now is the time to use Cloud and finally stop using magnetic tape for long term data retention and Disaster Recovery, but you will have to use some packing tape to box up all those old tapes before sending them to the dump.


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Hitachi has some of the most advanced data protection solutions for your environment. Ask one of our data protection experts or an HDS TrueNorth Partner to show you how to make the switch from tape to Cloud.