What are the risks of tape backup?

What are the risks of tape backup?

Magnetic tape was once the favourite solution for data backup purposes  and even in the wake of cloud and hybrid backup, it remains so among traditionalists. 

Yet while tape backup solutions defiantly endure, they may also be holding your business back – not least if you’re vulnerable to a few of its operating risks… 

First, let’s cover the advantages – starting with tape’s backup capacity. Racks upon racks of tape reels can hold huge amounts of data, so it’s technically feasible to keep a physical archive of old backups. It doesn’t require you 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 either, so it isn’t vulnerable to ransomware and other malware that affects the file system. 

Yet tape backup solutions aren’t standardised, and each relies on proprietary systems. If a particular kind of tape drive stops being supported, then a huge tape library potentially becomes obsolescent with itUsers would be forced to migrate that aged hardware to another form of storage, before it becomes obsolete. 

Obsolescence isn’t the only time-critical threat to tape backup, either: tape also degrades over time. If not stored properly, it’s subject to oxidation, and uneven stresses could stretch or distort it. Its magnetic properties are susceptible to decline too. 

Even when stored under optimal conditions, however, any medium has a finite life cycle. It should be migrated regularly, even if the hardware isn’t currently at risk. Yet tape data doesn’t make this process seamless, and copying several reels is a time-consuming task thats easy to neglect. 

There’s also the proprietary drives to consider. Over the years, it’s not uncommon for these to develop subtle problems, if not fail outright. This, combined with degradation in the tape, makes tape storage significantly more susceptible to read errors or worse, complete data loss.  

When it comes to whether you should use tape storage, you may need to consider your wider business needs. Can your business sacrifice preservation, migration and ease-of-access? Are there no other ways to safely share data between sites?  

Don’t forget the matter of that pandemic-sized elephant in the room. Covid-19 necessitated cloud solutions for our storage and backup purposes, illustrating that in times of emergency or immobilisation, physical solutions just aren’t possible. With the ability to move or store physical storage severely hindered by the rules and regulations that keep us safe, we risk running over our data capacities or – in the worst-case scenario – limiting our data access altogether.  

For some organisations, magnetic tape backup remains a necessity; especially for those with strict or bespoke security logging. For most, however, its drawbacks are eliminated, and its benefits replicated, by a modern cloud or hybrid backup solution. As well as keeping the backup safely remote, it minimises the risk of hardware failure and makes data recovery significantly more convenient. 

Similarly, a hybrid system could allow you to keep that tape data and back it up to a secure cloud, where it can be retained in the event of any corrupted or damaged drives. With a respected provider and adequate security provisions, it shouldn’t be too difficult to approach a level of security comparable to your own physical protections.  

Thinking of moving away from tape storage? Get in touch with Mirus IT today. Our Data Backup and Disaster Recovery solutions help you move safely and securely to a more expansive solution.

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