The Risks of Tape Backup


Magnetic tape used to be a favourite medium for data backup. It's still a good choice in a few situations, but for the most part it's fallen out of favour. Organisations using it should think carefully about whether it's the right choice, and they should at least supplement it with another medium.

Caution_Image.jpgThe big advantage of tape is its storage density. Racks of tape reels can hold huge amounts of data, so it's feasible to keep an archive of old backups. It doesn't require sharing data with anyone else, so encrypted tape storage can satisfy very strict security and privacy requirements. It's not an attached volume like a disk drive, so it isn't vulnerable to ransomware and other malware that affects the file system.

However, tape has one big problem. There aren't any standards, and all tape backup systems are proprietary. If a particular kind of tape drive stops being supported, then a huge tape library becomes obsolescent. It will be necessary to migrate it to some other form of storage before the hardware becomes useless.

Tape degrades over time. If not stored properly, the tape is subject to oxidation, and uneven stresses could stretch or distort it. The magnetic properties will gradually decline.  Even when stored under optimal conditions, any medium has a finite life. It should be migrated periodically, perhaps every five years, even if the hardware isn't currently at risk. Copying a large number of tape reels is a time-consuming task, though, and it's easy to neglect.

If the drive can't be replaced, it will itself develop subtle problems over a period of years, even if it doesn't fail outright. This, combined with degradation in the tape, can lead to an increasing error rate.

If tape storage is kept in the same facility as the computer systems it backs up, a disaster could ruin both at the same time. Transporting tapes to a remote location avoids this risk, but it adds risks and costs of its own.

In some situations, magnetic tape backup remains a necessity. Most organisations, though, are better off with modern approaches such as cloud backup. It keeps the backup safely remote from the primary computer systems, minimises the risk of hardware failure, and makes data recovery convenient. Please contact us to learn more about Mirus IT's approaches to backup and disaster recovery.