Choosing between online and magnetic tape backup

With the advent of technology one is able to produce and curate inordinate amounts of data, crucial to day-to-day work, like never before. It’s no longer a question of whether or not to back up data, but more about finding the best way to do it. Cloud backup has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, but tape backup is certainly not dead.

“We are often asked which backup solution is best, but finding the answer to this question isn’t easy because that’s like comparing apples with pears. Both have their drawbacks and redeeming features”, says Tony Holmes, CEO of Backup Storage Facilities (BSF), leaders in providing an effective professional solution for secure, safe and confidential off-site data backup storage.

Holmes suggests considering key questions before committing to a solution: What kind of data will you be backing up? Will the data need to be accessed regularly? How long will the backups need to last? Do you need to simply backup your data, or archive it? “The answers to these questions are pivotal in selecting a storage solution”, says Holmes.

THE BENEFITS OF TAPE
Holmes explains that that while there are various backup options available, one of the best storage solutions for critical data is media tape storage. “Tape backup is essentially the ability to copy your data periodically from its usual storage device to a tape cartridge device so that if you experience a hard disk crash or something similar, your data won’t be lost”. A benefit of Tape backup is longevity; “In general, the longer you wish to keep your data, the more attractive tape becomes”. Tapes kept in a stable environment can last for up to 30 years.

In principle, Tape is infinitely scalable. “This means you are able to scale to the volume of data you need to backup”. Tape uses less power because the drives only run when data is being read or written. “The benefit here is that there is no power, cooling or additional hardware requirements. Tape can be used for both backing up and archiving data, and, because of its encryption and single-write options, you can safely and easily store your data. Tape is also user friendly and in the event of a hard drive crash, restoring the data from a Tape drive is relatively simple and painless”, says Holmes.

SOME CONSIDERATIONS
Tapes are subject to degradation if not handled and stored properly. “Things like mishandling, humidity, dust, heat, and ordinary wear and tear can affect the integrity of your data”, explains Holmes. As with any removable media, protection of data is a concern. “Physically moving tape backups off-site can increase the risk of security and compliance violations”.

Tape drives are sequential-access devices so performing partial restorations of data can be challenging. “This is why tape is best suited for full system restorations. Recovering an individual file involves first determining which tape contains the desired file, and then cueing the tape to the point where that file is located. You’re unable to readily access your data stored on tape drives, unless you have a dedicated file server with an attached tape library. Even then, you cannot access your data remotely, or through the Web; only through your local network”, explains Holmes.

HEADING FOR THE CLOUD
Storing data in a cloud-based location means disasters such as fires, dust or mishandling don’t have to be considered. With online storage solutions, data is encrypted when in transit and in storage, eliminating the risk of it being compromised. Holmes says, “Provided you have an active internet connection, you can easily restore and regain your data from anywhere”. However, storing your data online can be a costly process because you pay for every gigabyte you use. Online backup, though, offers a lower cost per Mb of data, making this solution a more cost effective one. The backups are non-sequential, making searching and restoring individual or multiple files easy; and are available in real-time for timeous restoration. “There’s less potential for human error in online storage and data copies are stored on multiple servers for redundancy, making data loss less likely”, says Holmes. Online backup tends to have a greater recovery rate than tapes or other external media types.

SOME CONSIDERATIONS
The obvious major downside to online data storage is that date can’t be accessed offline and internet connection is essential. Backups also require bandwidth usage. This means a first-time backup could take days and use a great deal of data, which could lead to significantly increased charges if bandwidth allowance is exceeded. The lifespan of disk drives are not as long as tape. Holmes says that, “Most online backup and storage providers handle the move of data onto new drives as part of their service offering”.’

Security of an online backup is usually the biggest concern for users. As Holmes points out, “While providers do their best to secure files, online storage is always open to the risk of a breach. All it takes is for someone to inadvertently disclose their user ID or password and data can be compromised”. Another point of possible frustration is that there is little to no control over things like downtime and the like. Online providers usually charge an ongoing maintenance fee so long as their service is in use; unlike tape services which is usually a once-off cost for the hardware.

THE VERDICT
Backup, storage, archiving, access, longevity and security are the aspects that must be considered when choosing which type of back up service to use. Holmes concludes that because most businesses have a combination of these requirements, companies would do well to select a provider that offers a comprehensive solution encompassing a both magnetic tape and online options, as well as other mediums for the most effective backup solution.

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