Is tape dead yet?


Q: My company has been backing up to tape for more than 20 years. We have our problems now and then, but the total cost of the backup solution is so much less than the initial cost for a [disk-based backup] replacement system. I have higher-ups asking me about newer technologies and I keep telling them that what we have does the job just fine. I don't want to be behind the times and working with obsolete, or soon to be obsolete, technology. Is tape dying or dead?

A: I can assure you that tape is nowhere close to being dead. In fact, many of the same vendors telling you this depend greatly on tape themselves to protect their own corporate data. You are right that tape has a lower total cost of ownership [TCO], but I must add to that—when it works properly.

There is a gaping hole in the monitoring and reporting of physical tape drives and tape cartridges, and few administrators know whether their tape is one mount away from failing, or if a cartridge is having problems being read from, until a restore is unsuccessful.

Without monitoring tools, using tape is akin to driving a car without a dashboard letting you know how many miles you have left 'til empty, whether it's time for an oil change, or if your check engine light is on. The result is that, sooner or later, like anything that moves, the device is going to break down and your life of managing tape is always going to be reactive. Because of this, many storage vendors are telling you to back up to disk first, or to a virtual tape library.

To measure and manage your tape environment and keep that low TCO, take a look at a couple of solutions:

  • Hi-Stor Technologies’ StorSentry (www. hi-stor.com/site/index php?pge=62&lang=en)
  • Crossroads' ReadVerify Appliance (www.crossroads.com/Products/RVA.asp)

Hi-Stor's StorSentry, sold directly and through Sun Microsystems, has been on the market for five years and integrates with EMC’s Backup Advisor. The Crossroads RVA, sold directly, is in its second year.

As some of the tape libraries today cost more than the majority of cars on the road, and tape cartridges hold more than a terabyte of data, I strongly recommend having a tape drive and tape cartridge monitoring tool to assure they perform the way they should.

CURTIS BREVILLE is a senior analyst, storage management, with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). Send your questions to him at: cbreville@enterprisemanagement.com

This article was originally published on April 01, 2009