Blast from the past: what to do with your old tape data

17 March 2015 by Shaad Subhan

It is a scene repeated the world over on a daily basis – a senior member of staff requires the data from old tapes which have been in storage for a number of years. Not only that, but he also needs it NOW!

The situation can come about for a number of reasons:

  • Sometimes, a company has archive backup tapes and due to the age of the media doesn’t know what data these contain or what backup software was used to create them, making it almost impossible to find specific data when it is required.
  • Other clients bring us archived tapes which, due to their age and storage conditions, are suffering from media damage and cannot be read using the conventional methods. Or their archive tapes are old which increases the risk of them being unreadable making the need to migrate to a new tape format more urgent. Highly regulated industries may not only require companies to have quick access to the data but also duplicate copies. Using specialist tools tapes can be duplicated relatively quickly and then stored for use if required.
  • The most common scenario involves customers who no longer have the backup environment or software to read the tapes. They are unsure of the data stored on the tapes but quick and reliable access may be required in the future.

These are just some of the reasons that the requirement for tape migration may become more critical. The need to access the data on legacy tapes exists and in many cases can come with a deal of urgency. If this data is not presentable in a timely manner, the company in question may face legal repercussions or even a large fine.

Some possible solutions...

There are, of course, immediate solutions to this problem depending on what the primary objective is:

  • Should specific data be required as a matter of urgency, a native restore of the data is the most obvious solution, though this will require the backup environment to be in place, or a third-party restore of the required data. However, this means you will need to rely on another company to extract the data in a timely manner. However, it is possible for this predicament to be avoided entirely.
  • The most obvious option when the migration is to be undertaken internally, potentially due to the sensitivity or type of data, is a mass migration of the data to either the current tape format (such as LTO6)  or backup solution. This proves to be challenging for many as it can be a long and costly process, especially so if undertaken internally and with a large number of technical challenges to overcome. This is what is thought of as a typical tape migration, however other options are available that would fulfil a range of requirements, depending on your main objective.
  • When quick access to the data is required, an extraction of the entire tape estate may be preferable. Dependent on the size of the tape estate, this could potentially involve an initial cost and time outlay. However, once all the tape data was stored on a central storage unit, access to specific files and folders would be quick and efficient.
  • If the main objective is to be able to easily access the data on a set of tapes over a longer period of time, using catalogues detailing the data stored on the tapes would be the best option. Retaining access to the native catalogues is one way to do this, but this would require a maintenance contract with the software vendor for this method to be successful. With this system in place, the tape(s) that contain the required data would be sent to the third-party provider that is performing the restore and subsequent data extraction from the tapes.

Alternatively a third-party catalogue can be created. This has the benefit of not being tied down to certain backup software and the output format pre-agreed. This catalogue can be used to identify the tapes that contain the required data and; once identified; the tapes sent to a third party to be restored. By creating the catalogue in this way, ad-hoc restore services can be offered, which is ideal should the restores not be time-critical. Catalogue creation is also beneficial from a cost and time standpoint as a cataloguing project will not only be more cost effective than an extraction, but also less time-consuming.

Tape migration can often seem like a daunting, time-consuming and costly process; however, these alternative solutions allow for quick access to the data whilst maintaining minimal initial costs.  Since any of the above can also be tailored to suit a number of various needs and requirements, this is an additional benefit that can be gained.