Tape Backup in Modern Businesses

In an era where digital data reigns supreme and drives the most prominent businesses, any idea to implement magnetic tape storage in a company can seem completely archaic and old-fashioned. Despite these assumptions and the general sentiment that favors modern forms of storage such as the cloud, the tape-based backup method has not died out. There are still important data protection factors for which tape backup may prove to be more beneficial and efficient than the more popular cloud storage.

Why use tape backup?

More and more devices are moving away from using any form of disk storage. Most modern computers often lack an optical drive, commonly used to read CDs or DVDs. At first glance, it might appear that just as floppy disks ran their course and were replaced by other, superior forms of data storage, so will all forms of physical storage be replaced by the cloud. However, using tape-based backup storage remains a relatively popular choice for several reasons.

• 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. No matter the company’s backup strategy, it’s barely possible to trust only one type of storage nowadays. There are many examples where a ransomware attack or other forms of disaster corrupted production data and backup data. A 3-2-1 backup strategy means having at least three copies of your data, two on-site but on different media, and at least one off-site copy. Is there a place for backup to magnetic tapes in this strategy? Yes, of course!

• Technology Debt. Companies with a database spanning years into the past know that migrating from tape to cloud remains quite tricky and can require a significant number of resources as well as effort to safely and successfully transfer the data. It’s far more efficient to maintain tape backup but convert it to a secondary storage medium or mainly for archiving purposes.

• Legal Compliance and Archiving. It is also important to remember that larger companies and those with compliance requirements are often legally obliged to keep tapes for several years. Because of this, tape backup remains a form of data storage that various companies need to maintain. And while it is often unlikely that companies, which utilized tape for storage, would need to retrieve this data, they might still be required to keep these tapes in good condition. Failing to do so could lead to many serious legal issues.

• Storage Costs. Another reason that tape for backup storage is still in use today is that tapes are incredibly inexpensive and often more affordable than other options for secondary data storage destinations. When cloud backup services were first introduced in the past, the high costs involved made the service far too expensive for most companies. However, with the constant technological development, bandwidth and storage costs have significantly lowered, making online or cloud backup more accessible for most users. And although the cost of using tape for storage is still notably lower, the technological benefits of automation, reliability, and easier control and maintenance make cloud backup the preference for most companies. In 2021, over half of the organizations recorded used only cloud technology to back up their data without the involvement of any physical storage.

However, a small number of companies and organizations store such immense volumes of data that utilizing tape for storage is their only viable option. When the total size of the database can exceed multiple petabytes of data, the cost difference between tape backup and other types of storage can bring in significant savings.

Tape backup means additional security

While cloud technology brought about great progress in data storage and allowed for fast and efficient data transfer, it also opened the digital assets to a number of new cyber threats. For data stored digitally in the cloud, dangers such as malware, ransomware or hacker attacks, and other security breaches remain a legitimate menace that companies must keep in mind.

Compared to that, tape storage offers an additional layer of security that physical media can only provide. It’s not uncommon for various institutions, particularly involved in national security, to revert to using older technologies that utilize physical data storage to increase the overall safety of their data. That’s why in the case of magnetic tape backup, we speak about air-gap backup copy – tape backups are stored offline.

Because of this, tape backup is particularly effective in recording data that must remain highly secure. Such a type of backup storage is the only foolproof way of avoiding a complete data infection in the event of a ransomware attack.

What’s more, modern tape backup can be configured as Write Once – Read Many, known as WORM, so the data on a tape can’t be changed or deleted.

Longevity and reliability

One of the reasons magnetic tapes are used in 2022 is because of their longevity and durability. Although most of the tapes used in data storage today are outdated by today’s standards, they remain a reliable form of data storage, provided they are properly cared for.

While the maintenance of tapes used for data storage adds further manual work to creating and securing data backups, well cared for and properly stored tapes will last for decades.

Currently, several companies provide outsourcing of data storage, including tapes. Most of these services offer maintenance as well as a safe place to store the tapes, without fear of someone overwriting or otherwise damaging the tapes.

Storware is well aware that data backup and recovery for modern workloads cannot ignore the area of ​​magnetic tapes. They’re always in use, cheap and great for protecting your data from ransomware and other threats. The work is in progress.

What type of companies can benefit from tape storage?

Because of the positive qualities listed above, tape for storage is used mainly in companies and organizations, which either require a tremendous amount of space due to the data gathered or relied on extra security to protect the contents of the database.

The first case involves companies that must actively gather large amounts of data. Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and some of the world’s biggest research institutions, like NASA, use tape to securely archive data.

Since access to most of the data saved on tapes is available only to the people in its closest vicinity, it’s a great way of ensuring that no unwanted guests will have access to the database. Because of this, tapes for storage are used in a number of government and military organizations, as well as other places which must emphasize the security of their data (e.g., Hospitals or universities).

Implementing tape backup in the company is not a step toward archaic IT. Magnetic tapes are ideal for data archiving or as secondary storage. Additionally, they offer effective protection against ransomware. Of course, automating a backup like this requires more effort than a backup to the cloud. However, this old proven technology can save space, money, and other important resources in your organization.

Paweł Mączka Photo

text written by:

Pawel Maczka, CTO at Storware