Offsite Tape Storage

by Rod Dunne on October 3, 2010

in Articles, Backup Software, Data Recovery

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For decades, offsite tape storage has been the primary way of completing system/data recovery within companies. Many firms still recover lost data using backup tapes in preference to some of the more modern storage options. This article takes a look at the reasons for the ongoing success of backup tape storage and the important considerations to keep in mind when choosing an offsite tape storage facility.

Media Storage – The Backup Tape

The goal of using offsite backup tape storage is to provide a reliable means to restoring data and IT systems for a company as part of their disaster recovery plans. These plans cover severe events such as incidents of over-voltage that short out computers, flooding damage and extreme climactic conditions (e.g. hurricanes, electrical storms, storm damage).

Backup tapes have now been around for decades and in spite of them being superseded by newer offsite media storage technologies (disk to disk, SAN backup servers, HDD/NAS backup devices, etc.) they still have some key benefits:

  • Reliability: The tapes work with most operating systems and have proven their effective usage over decades.
  • Durability: Data recovery from backup tapes is a simple process, even when the cartridge has been damaged (unlike with HDD where mechanical recovery is costly and requires calling in data recovery experts).
  • Cost: Backup tapes are cheaper than ever. The low cost encourages maintaining an offsite tape backup of multiple generations of data (allowing snapshots of systems).

Offsite Backup Tape Storage Facilities

If you only retain onsite copies of backup tapes at your company’s then you run the risk of them being subject to the same disasters that can impact your IT systems. The firm’s disaster recovery plan also needs to consider securing an offsite backup tape storage facility. While the board will consider which one to choose based on cost, it is important to base your decision on (a) legal requirements and (b) location/proximity.

  • Legal:  If your firm has legal requirements surrounding data protection (for example, of customer data) then the offsite tape storage firm will need to comply with these. This in itself could severely limit the facility choices open to you, especially with government data.
  • Location/Proximity: You want your offsite tape backup to be far enough away from your firm so that it will not be affected by the same severe climate conditions your company will experience (this factor is dependent on how bad the weather gets in your area).
    However, in the event of you needing to restore a data/IT system (e.g. data loss after a power cut) then you need to be able to get the media delivered quickly enough from offsite tape storage to successfully continue the daily operations of your firm. How fast a turnaround you need should be explicitly declared in your disaster recovery plan and this will dictate how close the facility needs to be.

With any firm that you choose, test out recovering data for different hardware configurations from the offsite tape backup facility as part of an initial & ongoing test strategy. The last thing you want to experience is finding out the backups don’t work!

If your budget allows, then you will need to also consider storing duplicate backup tape reading devices in offsite media storage too. If the worst case scenario occurs then you want to be sure you have a reliable tape reader that can actually read your own backup tapes (newer readers may not support older tape formats).

Related Posts:
- The evolution of website backup options, scripts and technologies.

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