Pros and Cons: Data Archiving Solutions

Consider these factors as you decide whether to use a provider’s hosted archiving solution to replace your in-house system.

Is the clock ticking on your homegrown backup system? Or is the writing on the wall? Whichever cliché you choose, it adds up to the same dilemma: Your company’s data needs are getting too big and too critical to rely on your in-house system. Perhaps it’s time to work with an outside backup storage and recovery partner.

Before you can choose a partner, however, you’ll need to choose a backup method to replace your current system. Which will it be: tape, disk or online backup? Or maybe a blended solution? According to a 2011 Iron Mountain survey of 1,200 IT professionals, 48 percent of companies use a tape or disk system onsite for backups, 28 percent store physical backups offsite, and 20 percent back up with cloud or other online services. That’s quite a mix, isn’t it?

Before you make a decision, consider this basic primer of each format’s pros and cons.

Tape: King of the Backups

What keeps companies loyal to tape backup systems? Reliability is key when it comes to this durable technology, along with a little “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. Even after decades on the shelf, tape backups are still readable. That’s why even when businesses migrate to a different backup technology, they keep tape as their backup of last resort, the “backup of the backup.” Backup tape systems are easy to automate, making them especially attractive to organizations with demanding storage requirements. When backup needs are so great that the system must be completely automated, companies often opt for tape. Tape is also tremendously economical: Research by independent consulting firm the Clipper Group reveals that disk storage is roughly 23 times more costly than backup tape for long-term use; the report also says that an all-disk backup system costs about 29 times more than an all-tape system.

Tape backups are often the method of last resort, but there’s a reason they may not always be the first choice. Tape’s reliability comes with a loss of speed. Because tapes need to be read sequentially, they move through data from the beginning at a set pace. That makes them slower than digital solutions that can grab data from anywhere it’s stored. Still, companies for whom reliability is the most important criteria use backup tape for data recovery in their multi-format backup systems.

Optical Discs and Hard Disks: Speed Thrills

Thanks largely to their speedy data retrieval capabilities, disk storage systems have taken market share away from tape in the last several years. Having fewer moving parts in disk systems makes them more reliable: fewer parts, fewer breakdowns. In addition to their reduced mechanical risks, optical disc drives also excel at repelling the effects of dust and dirt.

But disk storage costs more than tape. True, disk prices have fallen, but tape is still less expensive over time. Disks are also less portable than tape backups. It’s easy to move a set of backup tapes to a remote location, but moving disk drives in an array is another story. This is a significant drawback. Having backups stored offsite in a remote data vault can help in protecting your company’s data from calamities. In some cases, a disk array or a disk archiving appliance can also be more costly than an equivalent tape system.

Remote Online Storage: Offsite and Out of Mind

The latest platform to win fans is online backups—and with good reason. They’re easy to automate, so a business need not worry about user errors creeping in. They’re also offsite by default, which is a big plus, because you want your data stored elsewhere to provide optimal protection in case of a fire or natural disaster.

When you send your data to an online site, however, you’re putting it at risk in the process. No matter how good the site’s encryption security may be, some hacker will be ready to accept the challenge to overpower it. For this reason, you might not want to use this method to back up critical business information or your customers’ personal data. Also, remote online storage is not inexpensive compared with the other backup options discussed here. Companies with ultra-high-capacity backup needs may want to consider another option or a hybrid approach.

You have several choices in the backup of your company’s critical data. You may find that the best solution is a mix of technologies. But no matter what you decide, it’s likely that the inherent reliability and security of backup tapes will spur you to make them a key component of your data backup plan.

Neutral Like Switzerland

Switzerland has earned a reputation for staying out of wars. We’ll try our best to emulate that role today. Pretend we’re Switzerland (minus the mountains and awesome chocolate). We present several major options for business backup systems, with pros and cons for each. Do we have a favorite? Sure, but we won’t tell. You decide.

Backup tapes, optical discs, hard disks and online storage—your choice should be shaped by these key criteria:

  • Which solution offers you the best chance of recovering your data quickly in case of an audit or crisis?
  • Which solution offers you 24/7 data access?
  • Which solution has the lowest failure rate, so you can be assured that archived data remains readable even decades in the future?

Iron Mountain Suggests:
Weigh Your Options, Weigh Your Needs

Ultimately, the offsite backup method you choose should be the one that best meets your company’s unique needs. Your company will live with the system for decades to come, so take your time and evaluate all your options.

  • Research the options thoroughly. Read through all the documentation offered by the companies you’re considering. List the unique features of the best platforms and the features of each that help them stand out.
  • Once you’ve got a list of companies you’re strongly considering, call a representative from each to explain your company’s goals.
  • Finally, ask for customer referrals. Speaking with other organizations using the technology will help you understand which method will likely work best for your company.

Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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