Why you should still use tape for backups

Image via Flickr: twicepix

While tape isn’t the ubiquitous backup medium it was a few years ago it remains hugely popular according to a recent survey by Spiceworks. Around 35% of the small businesses surveyed relied on tape to secure their backups, with slightly more using tape to back up their most sensitive data.

When we see these sorts of figures and compare them to the hype we hear about cloud and other technologies taking over the world, it makes sense to think twice before you eject the tape drive from your backup plans. Here are a few reasons why tape backups are still one of the best ways to keep your information safe.

After 60 years in the making, tapes are reliable

Image via Flickr: dvanzuijlekom

When you are looking at backup strategies, reliability will be one of your most important considerations. This is where tape is king. It has a life expectancy of up to 30 years, more than enough for most regulatory archiving requirements.

Tape backups are also stable technologies with decades behind their development. Using tape for backup has been around since first bits and bytes crossed two tone screens many years ago.

It’s also fairly common knowledge that magnetic tapes are hardier than the flimsy mechanical internals of a hard disk drive. Just do a search for ‘broke my HDD’ or something similar and you’ll see pages of snooty teenagers complaining about losing their assignments after dropping their disk drives.

Tape is cheaper

While initial capital costs are higher with tape, the ongoing costs are generally comparable with cloud when you take into account the cost per terabyte for each medium. Plus you get to keep all of your data securely within the walls of your own business, giving you an edge against nosey hackers or governments.

The costs for disk backups vary hugely but are somewhere between two to ten times more expensive than tape backups depending on the scale and setup. In one model – admittedly for a large organisation – the cost for backing up one petabyte of data on disk was 3.6 times higher than the tape backup option.

Tape is (generally) faster

New tapes can drop off data at a rate of up to 280 Mbps. Unless you are one of the select few in a Google Fiber area, that’s going to be orders of magnitude faster than you can download your data from a cloud provider.

At last check your average disk transferred data at around 180 Mbps, although this is getting faster with time. For the moment though, if you want to transfer a ton of data, getting it from a tape to a disk is one of the quickest ways to do so.

Tape backup has a place (but it shouldn’t be the only one)

After all this, I don’t want to come across as some sort of tape-only evangelist. Trust me, I’m not. I just believe that tape still has a vital part to play in any small business backup strategy worth its salt. If you disagree then I’d love to hear why.

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