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How to know if a tape migration is necessary?

The king of longevity

No other storage medium lasts longer than tape. This is of course great news for anybody who archives their data long-term (usually due to legal or regulatory requirements). The problem though, is that the ever evolving tape formats, and their related software and hardware, can become troublesome for IT administrators years later.

Considering that some industry sectors are required to keep their data for over 20 years, who can ensure that the original backup solution as well as the appropriate tape hardware will still be available?

Even if you think you don’t need it, you do

Even if the tapes themselves and the related hardware and backup solutions are still functional, there may be several reasons why companies will still require a tape migration. Some common situations include:

  1. When tapes are stored in a wet environment, the data on the tape can vanish. The tapes may also collect dust and other materials which can scratch the tapes’ delicate surfaces and destroy the data.

Tapes can store data for a very long time, but will fail if not handled properly. To avoid this, it is best practice to establish and maintain regular checks of the condition of the tapes. If the tapes are old and hard to read, it is wise to migrate the data to a new tape immediately.

  1. Tapes with very old and uncommon formats should also be migrated to a more recent, common tape format. For example, an old IBM tape format should be migrated to the latest LTO version available.
  2. Tapes storing data in an old backup solution format are also good candidates for a migration, if the information is still useful or mandatory. Maintaining all the necessary drives to read data from old operating systems can sometimes be almost impossible.
  3. Tape hardware which is hard to maintain or to repair is also a reason for migrating the data to a newer tape backup environment.

Do the benefits outweigh the migration workload?

The goal of a migration is to achieve a consolidation of all tapes into one main tape based backup solution, in a single format with only the required data continued to be stored (because it is mandatory or required for legal or business reasons).

In many cases migrating important data from one or many tape backup solutions or tape formats is mainly done to simplify the tape management process, reduce the workload for the responsible employees as well as decrease the associated costs of maintaining storage and specialist hardware and software. Migration can be more than a necessity, it can be a strategic data management decision.

During the migration and tape review process, it is important to remember that all the tapes (or the data) that has reached its (mechanical) end of life should be securely deleted and destroyed afterwards to avoid exposing any sensitive data during this last stage of the data lifecycle.

Image credit:  “IBM 3584 (TS3500) library” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by  naezmi 

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