Whether hated, loved, or regarded with ambivalence, backup tapes are still a part of the information governance (IG) landscape at many organizations. Although they are rapidly being phased out in many companies, tapes are the lumbering dinosaur of disaster recovery plans; slow, physically bulky and often part of an older, unstructured backup strategy. Tracking, monitoring and retrieving data from tapes can be time-consuming and difficult to audit. There are tales abound of lost tapes, inaccessible data and processes that are dependent on employees taking tapes home or storing them in a garage as part of a company’s backup approach. Information governance mandates the management of all information at all stages of its lifecycle, and in many ways, backing up information to tapes place an additional burden in a modern IT department.
Putting these tapes into perspective, imagine a largely tape-based solution in a modern organization. If that organization wishes to protect itself and meet compliance standards, tapes can actually hinder more than help. According to Eversync Solutions, tape is easily mishandled, and lacks the reliability of disk- or cloud-based solutions If and when a tape system degrades (for example stretching over time, or mechanical failure), it may not be discovered until it is too late. Because reusing tapes is typical in many installations, any failure may permanently wipe out all or most backups. But most concerning, from an information governance standpoint, is that retrieving data from tapes can be unreasonably difficult and unreliable. If your organization is being audited, or needs to present documents for litigation purposes, tapes can add significant time and expense to an already strained process.
The reasons tapes still have its adherents, however, is because they are an inexpensive, long-lasting medium that simply do not degrade at the same rate as disc drives. However, modern businesses move through data at a pace that tapes cannot keep up with. Considering the difficulties with access and speed, other backup and disaster recovery options are becoming more popular. Disk-based solutions can be quickly purchased and deployed with a wide range of options to configure auditing and troubleshooting backups. Newer cloud-based solutions offer the security of data center storage and redundancy, and universal access with internet connectivity. Both these options offer quick recovery options and include features for effective searching and auditing.
This is not to say that tapes are completely irrelevant. The cost factor alone will keep some companies, especially in the SMB sector, heavily reliant on tapes. Chris Poelker in an article for Computer World made a compelling argument for using tapes or disk-based retention methods or both based on your individual company needs; one size does not fit all. He argues that the downside of tapes is that they are made up for by their price structure. They still are dramatically cheaper than disk or cloud backup options. But even with this argument, it is clear they are best suited at the low-end for backup, and later, for archives. At the higher end, where recovery times and management are key issues, other solutions prove their worth despite their expense.
Along those lines Dell has recommendations for businesses looking to expand or overhaul their data disaster recovery solution. They point out that if you live in an accident-prone area (frequent power surges, floods, hurricanes), tapes are a great way to store data offsite and remain mobile with your records, in addition to being relatively safe from virus attacks. However, if your organization stores significant quantities of older data for long periods of time that frequently need to be accessed, the speed and availability of a disk- or cloud-based solution might merit the cost differential.
Regardless of what technology you use to fit into a modern IG strategy, your backup plan and disaster recovery process need to be well-documented and well-audited. It should be proactive, quickly recoverable and tested – and it needs to be able to grow with the company’s mission.