Is Tape Back Up Dead?

By Dan Ballard, in , posted: 8-Dec-2008 13:13

Traditionally speaking tape has been the default format for the backing up of critical organisational data, and a good choice it was. The main benefits being, that tapes are relatively stable and portable so you can get the courier or a staff member to come and take those tapes offsite to a secure location, ensuring that critical organisational data is safe in the event of a disaster. However tape backups are highly labour intensive and the real cost of tape backups are rarely calculated. Often overlooked costs of tape include; technician/staff member/proprietors time to perform the backup, technician time to perform test restores to make sure that the tapes are working, technician time to do actual restores, on top of that you have the cost of the tape back up hardware and the cost of storage of the tapes.

Very quickly the costs adds up.

A statement that is often tossed around by backup professionals is that your backups are only as good as your last successful restore. Sadly what happens is organisations systematically do tape backups and neglect do test restores 34% of companies fail to test their tape backups; of those that do, 77% find tape back-up failures (Source: Boston Computing 2005). The result is when a major data loss occurs they go to restore and find out that the tapes did not back up the data required or that they are damaged and the data is lost. The only avenue after a situation like this is data forensics which is a costly exercise.

Studies have shown that 70% of business that suffer a critical data loss go out of business within 12 months. Contingency Planning, Strategic Research Corp and DTI/Price Waterhouse Coopers (2004)

Small to medium business appear to be most at risk from data loss simply because they are specialists in their business not in technology let alone backing up data. The importance of backing up their data falls into the too expensive or too hard basket. Another classic that I have heard my self is a business owner saying “it has not ever happened to me, so I will worry about it when it does”. Unfortunately with an attitude like this when data loss does happen, it is too late.

Just to complicate the issue, for the first time in 2005 laptops outsold desktops and have outsold desktops since, what this means is that work forces are becoming more and more mobile working on the road or from home. This presents some interesting challenges for technology providers because there is business critical data on those laptops however a lot of the time they are not in the office, so how are backups performed?

The Future Of Back Up Is Here!
When I was 6 years old I remember going to a friends place and loading up a Commodore 64 with a tape to play games, it was so slow and inefficient and it would take around an hour to load a very basic game. These days we can virtually shoot someone on the other side of the planet in a game because of the internet and high speed connections. Just like gaming, I believe technology has moved on from tapes and already we are seeing a shift to online, automated, encrypted back ups that are not only secure but provide all the benefits of any Software as a Services product in the fact that backups can be performed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection with no requirement from the end user to do a thing besides initially getting the backup software setup.

Data Insurance
In business your buildings, staff, intellectual property, cars and hardware are considered assets and you can purchase insurance to protect them, but what about data? If 70% of businesses go out of business after a major data loss surely it has a value and is worth taking every precaution not only to protect it but also to insure it. An interesting concept that is relatively new that is going to be huge and quite likely become compulsory in the future is data insurance. The idea is that your data is worth an amount so not only do you have it securely backed up, if that data can not be retrieved your organisation gets paid out to the predetermined rate.

I do believe that backup tapes will eventually get relegated to the technology museum along with the Commodore 64, well there will be the occasional organisation where security is paramount and their data can’t travel over the internet that will hang onto them for longer, however for the majority the cost savings, flexibility, certainty and security will win out and most organisations will move to a SaaS online backup solution.

Dan Ballard

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