Tape Backups Persist Amid Storage Innovations
While many organizations move to cloud storage and backup solutions, many continue to incorporate tape in their backup and recovery plans.
By Sharon Florentine

As disk-based, online, and cloud storage and backup solutions become more cost-effective and readily available, the role of tape backup in organizations has shifted.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior adviser at the Server and Storage IO Group, says that shift has a lot to do with the size of a given organization. The smaller the organization, he says, “the more likely they’ve already moved away from tape or have never used tape at all. The larger the organization, the more likely they are using a hybrid of tape and other technologies.”

Schulz adds, “Tape is being replaced for day-to-day backups by disk and online solutions, but it doesn’t go away entirely. Its role shifts to long-term retention and archiving.”

A Hybrid Storage Solution

When tape is used for long-term storage and archiving, many of the arguments against it — reliability and high failure rate — become moot, Schulz explains. “Tape backups weren’t meant to be accessed repeatedly and to be overwritten again and again. That’s when failure and data corruption occur. When organizations use tape to simply park data and store it, when it just sits there, failure rates are greatly reduced and it’s more reliable and extremely affordable.”

Much smaller organizations and home-based businesses often don’t need tape-based solutions at all. As Schulz points out, many smaller organizations find consumer-focused backup solutions, like Carbonite, Mozy, and other similar offerings, are just as affordable and easier to use.

“The smaller the environment, the more likely it is they’ve used commodity products, like Carbonite, Amazon, or Google’s online storage solutions,” Schulz says. “Because of economies of scale, these kind of high-end technologies don’t scale upward to the larger SMBs, and in those situations tape becomes more practical. But smaller organizations can leverage these sophisticated, consumerized products to finally have secure backups and storage in place very cost-effectively.”

Redundancy Trends

For redundancy and easy access, “the trend is for one backup copy on a disk with another copy of the data somewhere off-site, whether that’s the cloud or a physical backup solution,” says Schulz. “The more important the data, the more copies you’re going to have — you need redundancy. And if this data, these files or records, are saved on a disk or in the cloud, it’s much easier and simpler for small businesses and SOHOs to access it. They can even do user-initiated restores.”

The smallest organizations often use removable backup disk drives — Schulz favors the latest evolution of Iomega’s Zip drive — that can be stored almost anywhere.

“Not that long ago, for a very small business, it would have been impractical to [have] network-attached storage [NAS] with iSCSI connectivity and built-in backup,” says Schulz. “That kind of technology was exclusive to the larger, more profitable SMBs.” For his own business, Schulz purchased just such a drive: the Iomega StorCenter ix4 NAS Server.

“Economies of scale preclude larger businesses from using technology like what I use,” Schulz explains. “But for small and mid-sized organizations, it’s really affordable, secure, and efficient,” Schulz says. “Tape isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yes, we’re seeing organizations use less tape, but it continues to play an important role in backup and storage. What’s really keeping tape alive? Disk drives.”

Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer based in Bristol, Conn.



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