Where Is Tape in Your Backup Mix?

Topics: Data Archive

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It’s true that other storage media may seem more cutting-edge. But what are your criteria for choosing a backup format? Going with tape is still an inexpensive, reliable way to protect and preserve your company’s data, while also ensuring that your business will recover if disaster strikes.

Five Common Backup Challenges

Which of these might your business be facing?

  • Finding inexpensive, reliable storage media
  • Feeling confident that you can recover data from your backup media in the event of an audit or discovery request
  • Ensuring business continuity and improving disaster recovery plans
  • Determining if or where tape fits into your backup infrastructure
  • Deciding which assets are best suited to a possible tape backup system

Tape’s Place at the Table

True old-school audiophiles will tell you: Reel-to-reel tape remains a superior way to store music, even in this age of digital desktop downloads. Likewise, in the information management world, tape backup systems benefit from a solid fan base that knows this format’s many virtues.

Many businesses—even some that have begun to digitize data backups—realize that tape is an inexpensive, reliable way to duplicate and archive records. A key reason why tape joins digital media in a backup plan is its economy; digitizing everything remains far too expensive and impractical. In fact, tape still plays a critical role in the backup strategy at most companies. According to a 2010 Aberdeen Group report, more than 75 percent of all Best-in-Class and Industry Average organizations report using tape recovery.

So it’s clear that tape remains popular. However, its role has shifted to a secondary or tertiary backup solution. Known as “the backup of the backup,” tape is a popular as the go-to solution for long-term archiving.

Call It the “Social Butterfly Format”

Over the past decade, many organizations have been experiencing a data explosion that shows no signs of letting up. The sparks fueling this information blast include various forms of social media—blog posts, professional networking sites and tweets, and, of course, e-mail. All this data screams its demand for greater storage capacity, and this is where tape excels. Relative to disks or other media, magnetic tape is a low-cost, high-capacity storage option. For example, a single LTO-5 tape holds 1.5 terabytes (1.5T) of uncompressed data.

Another advantage of tapes is that they don’t just hide away for good once they’ve fulfilled their initial backup responsibilities. When there’s an attack on your company’s information by malicious hackers, mercenary cyber-criminals, or natural and man-made disasters, tape backups remain a steadfast way to restore critical company data. Tape backups are also invaluable sources of archived data during compliance audits and legal discovery requests—and there’s always a clear Chain-of-Custody.

What Goes to Tape?

The medium itself is inexpensive and storage is easy and cheap, although the cost of transporting it and retrieving data can be prohibitive for some operations. But tape is ideal for long-term archiving of records that you may need someday to satisfy legal discovery or financial audit requests, and for securing information key to maintaining the continuity of your business after any kind of disaster.

Tape is best suited for public companies or those in the financial, healthcare and insurance fields—businesses heavily regulated by the likes of Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and other federal and state laws. Tape also can meet the needs of technology companies—particularly search-engine and social-media organizations—that generate large amounts of data relative to the size of their staff and which might have a more urgent need to expand and improve their disaster recovery plans.

If your company has expanded quickly through mergers and acquisitions, or regularly undergoes audit and litigation procedures, tape can help manage and store your information. The same is true if your business is in a disaster-prone area like a flood plain, tornado alley or earthquake zone, or if your business or market segment is an attractive target of malicious attacks by hackers and cyber-thieves. Tape physically shields your information from these threats—and its high reliability ensures constant data integrity and accessibility.

Conserve Resources with a Team Approach

After you assess your backup and archiving requirements (and especially if you’re working with limited IT resources), you may opt for a trusted partner with offsite vault services. Most IT departments are stretched beyond their capabilities, and backup is often given short shrift, which can leave data vulnerable. This is a potentially costly mistake—though financial distress need not be part of your data backup plan.

Aberdeen Group research indicates that Best-in-Class companies that apply the right technology to their advantage experience fewer business disruptions annually; these organizations average .9 business interruptions per year, versus the 3.0-per-year industry average. The Best-in-Class companies also recover 6.5 times faster and will likely lose 40 times fewer dollars as a result of disruptions, compared to the businesses Aberdeen identified as Laggards.

How big of a hit can an organization take? It depends whom you ask. A 2010 Ponemon Institute study revealed that companies experiencing a data breach spent an average of $7.2 million in the recovery process. Aberdeen reports that its Best-in-Class companies pay on average as little as $72,000 for annual business interruptions, while an ill-prepared Laggard business would far exceed the industry average of $1.55 million, shelling out an average of $2.88 million annually to cover roughly 3.3 interruptions.

That’s probably because Laggards tend to rack up more downtime during interruptions—in the Aberdeen study, which surveyed 125 companies, Laggards reported 29.4 hours of disruption, compared to the 1.2 hours reported by Best-of-Class companies.

At some point, onsite tape backup and management chores may grow beyond your staff’s abilities. That’s when it’s time to send tapes to a partner’s offsite vault, where they can be cared for with a full suite of backup products and services. (These offerings should include a catalog manager application, so you’ll know what’s stored on offsite tapes.) A trusted partner should also offer backup care and “hot hands” to help you manage both remote and co-location sites.

Look for a comprehensive offsite tape vault plan that not only stores your tapes but also offers ways to easily manage, retrieve and transport backup media between your offices and an offsite facility. Knowing these services are readily available is essential to your disaster recovery plan; when a crisis hits your company, you need to know that you can get your business up and running quickly—and with the most complete set of data available.

With a backup plan in place and a strategy for how tape plays in the mix, you’ll achieve something that’s hard to put a price tag on—peace of mind for you and your business.

Iron Mountain Suggests: 

Assess your storage needs. The type of information that requires backup (and its volume) plays a large role in determining the mix of storage media.

Make tape a cornerstone of your archiving strategy. Inexpensive and capable of storing high capacities of data, tape cartridges are an optimal long-term storage choice.

Team with an expert. Managing, storing and retrieving data on tape takes resources and expertise. A trusted partner can offer both, plus top-notch solutions and facilities to protect and access tapes.

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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