Tape Vaulting: A Government Agency’s Best Hedge Against Data Loss

Topics: Data Archive | Federal Records and Information Management

Even as momentum builds toward cloud solutions, consider the benefits of secure offsite tape vaulting. It can store vital backup tapes, restore data when disaster strikes, and lower your energy bills.


More than 75 percent of all “Best-in-Class” and “Industry Average” organizations rely on tape recovery systems.


“Classic” might be a coveted attribute of a sports car, but not of a backup and disaster recovery strategy. Agencies like the Department of Energy are beginning to modernize their initiatives as existing systems age.

DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman has begun moving the agency toward cloud technologies—and the final report on the agency’s Magellan cloud testbed reads mostly positive—but tape is still king for the cornerstone of any backup and recovery scheme. In fact, according to the Aberdeen Group, more than 75 percent of all “Best-in-Class” and “Industry Average” organizations rely on tape recovery systems.

Putting Data in Its Proper Place

A DIY tape vaulting plan, with tapes stored onsite or at a remote location, may work well in some scenarios. For a large agency like the DOE, however, a truly effective backup plan goes beyond storing cassettes in a clean, dry space. Maintaining a proper onsite tape vault requires considerable resources.

The optimal tape vault should shield its media from harmful elements such as dampness, wind and sun. It also calls for an air filtration system, since minute particles can ruin not only tapes but also the drives on which they run. Less detectable but no less damaging are electromagnetic waves, which should also factor into your evaluation of potential vault locations.  

If backup tape vault management seems daunting and outside your agency’s wheelhouse, consider an external partner. The right team of experts can easily execute and manage a vaulting plan—as well as other aspects of an agency’s backup program—to meet all necessary Continuity of Operation Plan (COOP) and security criteria. And by using an offsite vault, you’ll protect your data from any disaster or interruption that might befall your offices. You’ll also free yourself from the expense of providing upkeep and energy to properly heat and cool a vault.

Thwarting Expensive Interruptions

A secure tape vaulting strategy can play a critical role in reducing or eliminating the downtime costs stemming from a data breach or disaster.

A well-known Ponemon Institute study found that organizations suffering a data breach spent an average of $7.2 million to recover. The subsequent recovery costs, on average among all types of businesses, were $1.55 million, according to the Aberdeen Group. Compare that figure with what solely “Best-in-Class” organizations pay, on average, to recover (based on Aberdeen’s study of 100 organizations): $72,000.

A partner can help update backup and disaster recovery systems, and provide guidance to:

  • Identify vital records. NARA’s 2010 Records Management Self-Assessment Report showed that nearly one third of agencies responding hadn’t yet taken this first step—or didn’t know whether they had.
  • Develop and enforce retention schedules. Every agency has its own records retention schedule. The Department of Labor keeps monthly reports from adjudicatory boards for three years, and Social Security records extend well past taxpayers’ lives and into their beneficiaries’. An effective partner will monitor retention and destruction requirements, ensuring your enforcement of all federally mandated rules and regulations.
  • Schedule backups. Many backup strategies fail because of irregular or interrupted backups. A diligent partner can help schedule these, ensure they’re done properly, and coordinate backups in collaboration with transportation personnel.
  • Swap tapes. If a partner is already providing backup services, it can also send someone out to swap tapes and transport them to the vault for you.
  • Secure tapes. When a trusted partner is transporting backup tapes to an offsite vault, it should have rock-solid security measures in place at every point along the way. Every delivery should be tracked at all times; GPS-monitored vehicles let agencies track tape transport in real time. These measures create a comprehensive chain of custody.
  • Track data. Web-based applications are a preferred way to track delivery, scheduling and reporting. A tracking application should also be able to manage a multiple-office scenario. An accessibility solution integrated with a backup and storage solution ensures that an agency is in complete compliance with the Open Government Directive, Freedom of Information Act, and other accessibility mandates.
  • Use climate-controlled facilities. Mildew, water, wind or extreme temperatures can all damage tapes. This is why the best third-party tape vault is a carefully controlled environment with fire suppression and other measures in place. These features will bring an agency closer to meeting the stringent archived-records requirements of NARA’s 36 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1234.

Partnering for the Best Protection

An offsite tape-vaulting partner should have the expertise, technology and facilities to accommodate any agency’s vaulting plan—and to protect tapes against both tampering and the elements. With a great partner, agencies benefit from a full complement of tape options, tracking and scheduling software, and other services to help protect critical data assets.


For the Record: Why Tape Is Still on Top

Though it may seem like the least compelling storage solution, there’s really no doubt—tape is an inexpensive and reliable backup solution. Here’s why:

  • According to the Clipper Group Inc., disk-based solutions are more than 15 times more expensive to implement and maintain than tape.
  • Tape is greener. The Clipper Group reported that a disk-based backup scheme uses more than 238 times the energy of a tape backup system to archive a large application over its 12-year lifespan.
  • As technological advancements increase tape’s storage capacity, an agency can store more information without increasing its storage footprint. That’s an important consideration as government organizations strive to squeeze more from tight budgets and limited floor space.

Iron Mountain: The Keys to Smart, Secure Tape Storage

Working with a trusted partner on the following pivotal steps can help you create a smart, safe data backup and recovery strategy:

  • Determine your storage needs. Do you need to archive any paper records? What other storage media besides tape may come into play? Work with a data backup partner to develop the ideal scenario for storing and managing backups.
  • Back up with tape. LTO-5 tape is an inexpensive and durable backup option, especially for data that must be archived but that isn’t accessed regularly. That’s why it’s so often the medium of choice at the core of a solid and cost-effective backup strategy.
  • Collaborate with experts. A data backup partner will have the expertise and technology to execute a backup plan. Ask about secure transport strategies and other services.
  • Implement rigorous security. Since data breaches can happen anywhere in the data backup and recovery process, make sure security controls are in place every step of the way.

Have more questions about data backup and recovery services? 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 information management challenges.

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