The Top Five Triggers for Migrating Tapes

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 by Milagros Gamero


Change is rarely comfortable, but as Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  In business, there can be many reasons for organizations to modify or even revolutionize the way that they operate, some through choice, and some that are imposed upon them.  From a data center point of view, this often involves the transfer of information from one medium to another, and regularly encompasses the need to recover data from backup tapes and tape libraries.

Top five triggers to migrating tapes

What are the top triggers that initiate the need to restore data from legacy tapes, and what are the technical issues that make legacy data difficult to manage?

  1. Plans to replace or upgrade back-up infrastructure:  When backup infrastructure systems need to be changed or upgraded, information still needs to be accessed from legacy back-up tapes for operational, compliance or regulatory reasons.  Fast and accurate migration is required if the company is to ‘keep the lights on’ when transitioning through a migration program.
  2. Multiple backup infrastructures and tapes need to be managed following a merger or acquisition:  One of the biggest challenges to businesses engaged in merger or acquisition activity is ensuring that critical data can be shared across the new entity. This will inevitably involve finding a common format in which to store corporate information and transferring data quickly and accurately from legacy systems.
  3. Access to old tapes is regularly required, but companies don’t want the cost of retaining various backup environments:  It’s rare to find a corporate environment that has a ‘pure play’ backup environment in which everything is backed up to the same platform. Organizations increasingly recognize the need to produce legacy data in short periods of time requires them to establish a common format that can be managed effectively rather than a range of systems that require different skills and know-how to manage them.
  4. When a company can’t determine what data resides on which tapes and doesn’t have the resources to complete a request for information: Very few organizations have a complete map of all of the data that resides within their corporate systems.  However, an increasing number of companies are facing requests for specific data such as emails or documents to prove regulatory compliance or respond to legal inquiries.  Knowing where this data can be found quickly is vital if prohibitive costs are not to be incurred.
  5. Inability to read backup tapes because they’ve been physically damaged or the data is corrupt:  Fire, flood or other natural disasters can physically damage legacy tapes and make them difficult to read. Restoring and transferring data from damaged tapes to a new platform is a specialist skill that often requires custom software and tools.

There's no "free pass" when it comes to unavailable data

All of the triggers outlined above can expose unknown and unforeseen difficulties that only come to light when the pressure is on and organizations are scrambling for the information that they need. However, organizations have a duty to preserve relevant data upon reasonable notice of litigation or regulatory inquiries, so they should be aware of the threats to accessibility of their data. These can include:

  • Backup software failure
  • Storage media failures
  • Logical errors in the data, corrupt or inaccessible tapes
  • Significant differences between the data from the last backup versus data from the point of failure
  • Human errors such as accidentally re-initializing a tape or forgetting to enable the append option before starting a backup
  • Volume of data and "findability"
  • Aging systems and obsolescence

Key points to prepare for migration

Change is a necessary element of business development and cannot be avoided; therefore, it's more than likely that organizations will face at least one or two of the triggers in our list over the next few years, so they should be well aware of the pros and cons when choosing a specific plan to handle legacy data.

The impact on corporations of imminent new European data protection legislation is now publicized and the need to access legacy data from storage platforms quickly and efficiently is even more evident.

To prepare for a migration you will need to:

  • Understand the top triggers for tape migration so you can build an effective response
  • Identify what resources are needed to undertake a tape migration

These tasks are outside the day-to-day workload of the IT department, so companies don’t normally have the internal bandwidth to undertake a project of this magnitude, therefore it may make sense to consider working with an external provider that can help lessen the load.

Why be concerned with this now?

Apart from the benefits of making data more manageable and easily searchable, there’s usually a huge amount of legacy management costs that could be freed up by updating it.  It’s tempting to avoid these projects because they’re big and resource hungry, but by putting effort into them at an early stage, it's possible to save on long-term costs and free up resources further down the line.