7 Deadly Threats to Your Tape Accessibility

Thursday, August 11, 2016 by Milagros Gamero

Is your tape storage practice similar to that of most people? You might be ‘following the rules’ and making sure you regularly copy the company data into tapes, which you then diligently store and forget about for the next few years. However, those tapes store important information which you might have to access at the most unexpected moment. Would you be able to quickly find any requested information at the drop of a pin?

Time and time again we see IT managers start in a cold sweat when asked to get a specific set of data in a very limited time – their business risking a massive fine if they are unable to comply with the strict deadline.

Efficient storage = lower costs

Most IT budgets struggle with the current rate of data growth. Quick efficiencies in information management are essential to manage increasing loads and to support the service demands of business functions. It calls for a tricky balance of managing cost, legal risk and IT efficiency.

Unfortunately, less up-to-date backup and archive solutions are rarely up to the task. They lack the efficiencies of modern alternatives. Today's solutions offer operational and hardware cost savings because they use less energy, require less data center /archive space, and they are easier to manage. Vendors claim floor space savings of up to 90% and power consumption and cooling savings of 60% for a typical upgrade to LTO-5 technology. The result is a cheaper, greener, consolidated IT infrastructure.

First, ensure you can access the data

But how do you go about moving from a proliferation of backup technologies and media types to a single, consistent and cheaper solution?

On average, we see five tape formats in a typical tape conversion project. It’s not unusual for 15 per cent of the archive to be damaged in one way or another, or incapable of being read. This is why a successful migration path must always include safeguards such as a thorough assessment of the existing tape archive, the regulatory environment, company protocols and a data consolidation plan.

Have you considered risk and compliance?

Risk is a subject we rarely like to talk about. We may comfort ourselves with audits and handbook instructions, but how prepared are we really for a serious investigation, a malicious attack or a natural disaster affecting our data archive? Could your organization recover a specific mailbox in an investigation? Would your tape archive survive a natural phenomenon?

Top 7 tape accessibility threats

When managing a tape library, it is key to consider how to reduce some common risks which can destroy access to the data. You don’t want to have to find out this has happened when immediate access has become critical to your company.

1. Backup software failure

Backup software may be set up correctly and the process be kicked off. However, the actual backup data itself may never have been verified.

2. Storage media failures

At some point during the process you could experience:

• Tape drive failure • Corrupt or inaccessible tapes • The information written to tape can't be read (there may be logical errors in the data)

There is a significant difference between data from the last backup versus data from the point of failure.

3. Human error

Errors such as accidentally re-initializing a tape or forgetting to enable the append option before starting a backup are common.

4. Volume of data and "findability"

Sheer volume of data and the ability to find specific content within the corporate memory is a massive task. How do you know if data is lost or missing? For example, when companies merge, the operational, accounting, and client data of both companies needs to continue to be available. The various backup landscapes have to be harmonized (e.g., proprietary backup systems in Windows environments).

5. Aging systems & obsolescence

The need to maintain legacy data requires converting old static systems to another format or newer technology. Auditors may request submission of old data records – such as, in the case of one bank, the submission of 17,000 sets of entries from the 1980's.  The tapes were available, but the software and drives to read the data were no longer serviceable.

6. Natural disaster

Fire, water damage, mud, extraordinary cold, heat or other natural catastrophes are often the reasons for tapes becoming contaminated, damaged and no longer legible using the standard means.

7. Forensically unsound methods

The data may be "readable" by a human but moving data incorrectly can modify the file or system metadata relied upon for compliance, investigative, and e-disclosure purposes.

Knowing how these threats can affect access to the data when you need it, it is not surprising that an untouched tape archive is not the best solution for managing your tape library. Keep these in mind when deciding on the best options for taking control of your tape library.