Step by step guide to a tape migration

Written By: Ontrack

Date Published: 01 July 2016 00:00:00 EDT

Step by step guide to a tape migration

What does a typical tape migration process look like?

There is no standard tape migration project as every project is different. Several factors such as the amount of tapes, the formats used, the associated software and hardware solutions, the specific requirements of the business, etc. all play into the specific needs of the company.

However, it is safe to say that any project should include, at the very least, four major components: consultation, proof of concept, tape processing and project completion.


The goal of a data migration, whether it is tape-based or on any other media, is to keep your archives and production data accessible and available at any time.

To ensure this is possible, the first step is to do a detailed analysis of all the existing media. When using a third party tape migration service provider, there should be a consultation at this stage where the current state of the media and the desired outcomes of the tape migration process are discussed.

It is during this initial stage that the project requirements and the criteria for success are defined and agreed on. The result should be a statement-of-work, which accurately describes the scope of the project and includes cost estimates as well as a schedule for the migration.


A proof-of-concept ensures the project is defined. It goes hand-in-hand with determining the data landscape as well as the resources required to complete the project. For very complex cases, the project scope and effort required is determined in much more detail within a feasibility study.

There can be no proof-of-concept without an audit of the archived and available media and data. A comprehensive analysis should be done of all the existing media types and data formats that need to be migrated. This can be an extensive task, especially when there is a large amount of tapes to be migrated, consisting of various formats.

Additionally, during an audit, the quality of the tapes themselves have to be inspected. Are the tapes still functioning? Have the tapes reached their end-of-life? Are they intact or damaged? All these questions need to be answered before proceeding to the next stage of the process.

Tape processing

Tape processing covers all the steps in the procedure which are necessary to both technically migrate tapes from one format into another and/or from one backup solution to another as well as securely destroy the unnecessary tapes afterwards. These include:

Indexing and cataloguing

Once the available tapes have been indexed, a catalogue of the files has to either be created or saved. Every file on every single tape should be catalogued to create comprehensive lists of what content is located in each tape or tape set. 


This step is one of the most important since it ids at this point that the data is extracted from the original tape formats and from the original backup solutions. If the tapes are defective or old this step will entail data recovery efforts as well in order to access as much data from the tapes as possible.

Data conversion

Once the original data has been extracted, the next step will be to convert it into the new backup solution format. The tape migration service provider should have all the necessary tools available to convert not only common backup solutions or tape formats like Backup Exec or LTO, but also software from vendors like ARCserve, NetBackup, Microsoft Backup, Backup Express, Retrospect, CommVault, Tapeware, Cpio, Tar, Data Protector, Tivoli, Dump, UltracBac, Legato and formats like AIT, DLT or IBM 3592.

Tape duplication

During this stage tapes which, for example, have to be archived are duplicated in the final tape format. In some cases the tape migration service providers will copy the data onto a single tape format. More advanced software tools can duplicate the data on several different tape formats. A precise bit-for-bit copy will be created and replicated in the exact format of the wanted target medium.

Secure data erasure and disposal of tape media

An important step which might sometimes get overlooked is what to do with the tapes which will be thrown away. Discarded backup tapes still store sensitive data, which can be critical if it falls in the wrong hands. The business could risk a series of threats such as financial loss, legal penalties, loss of reputation both internally and with the public. Therefore a secure data erasure of the unneeded tapes and disposal of the tapes is also an important task of every tape migration process.

Project completion and follow-up

The fourth and final step of any migration tape project is the completion of tasks:

  • Evaluation of the final project
  • Examination of the project goals
  • Documentation of the project as well as the verification of the secure data erasure and the disposal of unnecessary tapes
  • Recommendations for data management and archiving

Obviously not all of these steps are required for every case, but even when some steps are left out, there is still a lot of work involved in these types of projects.

Ongoing solutions

longevity of tapes, additional problems arise when the employees formerly responsible for managing the archive tapes leave the company. Their successors often don’t have important information about the content of the stored magnetic tapes. Documentation on the used software or hardware solutions is missing. Sometimes the catalogues and indexes of the stored files are missing entirely or hold insufficient information. As a result no one really knows what content is located on the archived tapes that the company holds.

Fortunately the market is still developing new solutions to help ease the load of managing the growing tape libraries whilst also making the migration process easier to handle on a day to day basis.

Specifically, online tape catalogues can help better handle tape libraries by quickly providing the tape library manager with all the information necessary to decide what data is still important and what needs to be migrated and/or stored. These online catalogues are also independent of tape hardware or backup software, easing the cost of maintaining and accessing each and every format owned. Unneeded tapes and tape sets can be identified easily and securely destroyed, while important content can be rescued, extracted and migrated onto new tapes until their end-of-life.


KLDiscovery Ontrack Limited, Nexus, 25 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4AB, United Kingdom (see all locations)