Tape Backup – Do We Need It Now That We Have HDD?

by Rod Dunne on July 22, 2010

in Backup Software

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It may seem strange to many people that tape backup software and tape autoloader machines still exist in companies today and are still widely used for system/data recovery. In recent decades, HDD storage systems have become widely available, store massive data volumes and are increasingly cheap to run. Data backups can even be transferred across the web as part of a SAN backup solution instead of manually sending backups to offsite tape storage facilities.

So why are system administrators still using backup tapes? This article explains why.

Historically, tape backups have been in use with companies for decades now. Generations of tape backups storing IT system information can often be seen around the offices of system administrators. Going on face value, backup tapes are slower than HDD and can take up a lot of space over time.

The key to their ongoing popularity has been the very fact that they have been around for so long. At this stage, the tape backup technology has proven how reliable they are at saving and restoring system information.

All the bugs in the tape backup software have been weeded out over decades of improvements. If the technology had any kind of niggling issue which affected an administrator’s ability to restore critical system information then these systems would have long since died away. The tape autoloader machines can also be relied upon to read tapes, even under adverse conditions (unclean tapes, etc.).

In comparison, HDD devices and other technologies are almost like bleeding edge technologies when used in NAS backup solutions. When Vista came out it initially had difficulty being restored from HDD systems, whereas backup tapes promptly work with each new operating system.

The cost of a tape backup is incredibly cheap these days and this facilitates a liberal approach to maintaining backups for onsite purposes and offsite tape storage. Additionally, multiple generations or versions of IT systems can easily be archived at a low cost.

And while the speed of using tape backup software is often complained about, the backups can be automated to run at night using a tape autoloader so there is no actual inconvenience due to the slow speed.

Finally, the cost and ease of data recovery has also to be considered. If you drop a HDD backup device then you will probably need to call in data recovery experts to complete the PC maintenance or mechanical recovery to salvage your data – which will not be cheap.

By contrast, dropping tape backups will probably damage the cartridge. But in most cases, you can simply swap the tape into a new cartridge and it will work straight away. The simplicity of the media increases the probability of successful data recovery and saves you the cost of calling in experts.

The one exceptional case is when you need to find deleted files. Documents that have been deleted from a hard disk can rapidly be sourced on a HDD backup, whereas finding deleted files on a tape backup will take additional time to load, read and index the tape.

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