Tape: The Steady, Reliable Physical Backup Choice

Topics: Offsite Tape Vaulting

Your IT team may be rethinking its data backup and recovery plans to rely on cloud- and disk-based technologies. But tape is tops to provide the foundation for legacy data archives. Here’s why.


Tape drive technologies continue to leave disk in the dust in the race for reliability. A new tape’s life expectancy now ranges up to 30 years—compared with the old lifespan of eight years.
—Horison, Inc.


In one form or another, tape has been handling enterprise digital information for decades—and for good reason. It’s durable and cost-efficient. And when managed properly, it’s easy to handle, store and retrieve. This versatile medium remains a robust storage option that should remain a prominent part of your backup strategy.

Tape, the stalwart of the data protection world, is not going away, according to the Enterprise Storage Forum. In fact, thanks to significant technology advances, its role is expanding from a backup solution to the cornerstone of a technically progressive, long-term archival storage plan.

Cloud-based solutions have generated some buzz in recent years. But there’s no good technical or economic reason to ditch your solid tape infrastructure altogether—and for many enterprises, cloud, disk and tape can coexist in perfect harmony. Tape should at least be your heavy hitter batting in the cleanup position.

Recent improvements in tape technology include:

  • Unprecedented cartridge capacity increases, with the highest capacity of any storage device—up to 5 terabytes
  • Longer media life, with new tapes rated to last up to three decades
  • Improved drive reliability and vastly improved bit error rates
  • Faster data rates than any previous tape technology—up to 250 megabytes per second
  • The new Linear Tape File System (LTFS), which has changed the rules of access for tape, allowing data to be retrieved as is from disk or other removable media

With its combination of long media life, high reliability and a significantly low total cost of ownership, tape remains both the optimal remote and local offline storage solution for data protection and archiving.

Indeed, tape has gained momentum as the last line of defense if first-tier backups fail or become corrupted. And as data asset growth climbs into the stratosphere, tape is still the best choice for a range of tier 3 applications, such as fixed content and long-term archiving for regulatory compliance.

Not Your Father’s Tape

High-capacity tape cartridges are now more rugged than ever, and tape-drive technologies continue to leave disk in the dust in the race for reliability, according to Horison’s white paper. Tape drive mean time between failure (MTBF) rates have soared, from 80,000 hours to more than 400,000 hours. The expected life for any new tape now ranges up to 30 years, compared with the old lifespan of eight years. Security features added to tape solutions include various write-protected capabilities that address legal and long-term archival requirements.

New tape technology also has a better bit error rate (BER) profile than disk, meaning it can transfer far more data before encountering a permanent error. In addition, today’s tape drives have a useful life at least twice as long as disk drives, thanks to read backward compatibility: Current tape drives can typically read data from cartridges in their own generation and at least the two prior generations. Meanwhile, tape media can last four to five times—or more—as long as disk drives, says Horison.

Watch This Space

IT managers should feel confident that the tape industry is still innovating. Vendors continue to invest R&D dollars to boost the longevity, capacity and reliability of the medium. In the years to come, anticipated tape technology advancements include:

  • Unprecedented growth in cartridge tape capacity, to approach or exceed 60 terabytes by 2019
  • Continued cost advantages, with the average price per gigabyte for automated tape library storage expected to remain below that of magnetic disk storage
  • Lower relative operating expenses for automated tape systems versus online disk storage as personnel, facilities and energy costs rise

When you draw your next-generation backup and data archive road map, remember: When it comes to cost and reliability, tape is still the heavyweight champion of the data storage world. And it’s going to stay in fighting shape for many years.


If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em: Hybrid Solutions

It can make a lot of sense to integrate your tape libraries with newer technologies, such as disk and the cloud, to maximize speed and security and simultaneously extend tape drive and media life.

Key benefits of using tape as part of a cloud solution include:

  • Significantly lower cost-per-gigabyte rates than disk-only cloud approaches
  • Secure and reliable file storage capability with 256-bit AES encryption and WORM capability as selectable options for compliance, fixed content and archived data
  • Rapid scaling and improved access times for fast-growing tier 3 applications with LTO-5 technology
  • Less frequent drive and media conversions for tape than for disk with longer-life technology

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.

Related Content:

Identify and Destroy: Your Two-Step Ticket to Easier Information Compliance

Four Principles of More Compliant Archiving

Archiving to Tape: Your Key to Swift and Scalable Data Archiving