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Tape: The Tyrannosaurus Rex Of Backup

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Jon Mills dons his palaeontologist’s hat and compares tape to Tyrannosaurus Rex to encourage anyone that doesn’t see the need to evolve their backup to reconsider

Many businesses know that tape is the dinosaur of business continuity solutions, but find the idea of replacing their legacy backup systems with disk arrays too intimidating.

At first you may not think there are any similarities between Tyrannosaurus Rex and storage tapes: one is a carnivore that died out at the end of the Cretaceous period, the other is a magnetic medium for high capacity data storage. Yet the features of each mean that they face an evolutionary dead-end and replacement by nimbler, more adaptable, alternatives. Let’s look at some of the things they have in common:

1. Limited evolution

Tyrannosaurus roamed the earth for up to two million years at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago. Magnetic tape has been used in the same way for data storage for more than five decades. While age itself is no failing, aging without evolving means you are not responding to your environment and cannot react to changes or adapt to survive.

Meanwhile, intelligent disk-based backup technologies, such a virtual tape libraries (VTLs) have evolved dramatically in the past decade to equal and better the data protection of tape at a price point equal to, or often less than, traditional tape-based back-up.

2. They’re unsteady

T-Rex weighed in at between 5.5 to over 7 metric tons. Its build, including its ‘signature’ short arms and large head meant it could sustain serious injury on falling.

Backing up data to physical tape requires time and IT staff attention. It’s not only time consuming and costly; because it’s based on manual processes, backup is risky with tapes and the data itself is vulnerable to mechanical failures, human error, theft and damage throughout the backup lifecycle.

By comparison, disk-based backup solutions are inherently more secure than tapes. The technology stripes data across multiple disks to deliver hack-proof security as well as full failover capabilities within a disaster recovery strategy. VTLs also protect data from unrecoverable losses by eliminating the risk of failed backups or defective media.

3. They’re slow, and unable to compete with faster-moving replacements

It may be one of the longest-running debates in paleontology, but due to its build and physiology it’s widely thought that T-Rex was limited to a speed of around 25 miles per hour, possibly less.

Tape is not fast. It’s common for tape-based backups to take longer than the overnight backup window and for restoration of data from tape to require several hours or even days, well beyond the recovery time objectives of most businesses. Meanwhile, writing to disk is fast. De-duplication technology reduces the total ‘mass’ of the backup and doing it all on-the-fly reduces backup times to as fast as 1TB per hour per port (16TB per hour in the fastest appliances) for disk compared to 1/3 TB per hour per drive. Advanced disk-based backup solutions, such as VTLs, cut backup and recovery times, reduce media costs and dramatically improve backup performance.