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Tips to future proof your legacy tape archive

Tape image

Migrating storage is getting easier thanks to centrally managed storage.  The problem comes when you suddenly discover that you need some information that only exists on obsolete media that can’t be read by your current solutions. Perhaps you have some old LTO-2 tapes that you didn’t copy before upgrading to LTO-5 drives.  If that sounds familiar, here are five tips to help you be prepared and prevent tape archive embarrassment.

1.     Know what storage technology you have in-house

Large OEMs will always be keen to move a client forward to the next generation of their storage and many companies own a multitude of storage formats and technologies. Some are still supported and you might have the equipment in working order but most are not. Establish an archiving policy, and ensure that important data is de-duplicated and then moved to new media whenever hardware is upgraded, or at least to a type of storage that can be affordably accessed. If you identify a format (like LTO2) you cannot recover data from, make a plan to migrate or consult a provider of ad-hoc tape restoration services. Also, identify your important data and know where it resides and in what format.

2.    Assess the health of your tape archive

To avoid discovering damaged tapes just at the time when you are trying to restore critical data, it is paramount to periodically test the health of your tape archive by assessing the readability of sample tapes. What is written to tape could be rubbish hence the need to validate.  You should also check the availability and working condition of your tape solution, and your IT department’s ability to work with legacy tape formats. If you lack the legacy knowledge or the time to carry out such tests, seek the help of a professional.

3.   Verify your staff’s skills and time to access legacy data archive

You might still have the equipment but if your IT staff lack the skills, time or solutions to restore tape you will have to decide between investing time and effort in obsolete technology and assign people to it, or outsource tape restorations work to an external vendor. Preparation is key here, ad hoc restores can be time-consuming and in case of litigation will be time-sensitive, so make sure your vendor is standby and has a priority service for these cases.

4.   Save cost by retiring obsolete hardware and software, but have a plan B ready, too!

On paper, you can achieve great cost saving on equipment and maintenance cost by retiring old storage technology. But if you are not in the position to migrate all your data to a new storage technology like a disk, you will still have to find a plan B solution for those unexpected data restores. A simple way to assure you can restore legacy data is a tape restoration retainer; this will give you a pre-defined amount of restores and guaranteed service level while keeping your cost-saving intact.

5.   Enforce a retention policy and retire EOL storage media in a safe and environmentally friendly way

Establish and enforce a retention policy so data is not kept longer than necessary – if you no longer have it, you do not have to worry about retrieving it. Just be careful to comply with any relevant laws or regulations. If you can finally dispose of data make sure it is properly erased and handling in an environmentally friendly manner. Whether it is tape, drives or HDDs always verify your data is permanently erased by an eraser software of degaussing solution.

Recovering data from old media is an everyday job at Ontrack. We maintain a huge stock of outdated storage hardware at our branches around the world, and we support a wide variety of software. For more information, please visit www.ontrack.com/uk/services/tape

Tom McCaffrey

Head of Product Ontrack Data Recovery

Picture copyright: Adobe Stock

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