Four Reasons Why You Should Not Rely On Tape Backups
Magnetic data storage was discovered in the early 1950s, and became widely popular in the latter part of the twentieth century. Many institutions still use this type of technology to backup all of their essential data. But, is this truly a wise choice? So, here are a few reasons to not trust your valuable historical data to magnetic tape-based solutions.
Tapes are vulnerable to environmental factors, and easily damaged by:
- Temperature Extremes
- Magnetic objects
When read, the magnetic tape passes over a read head, allowing exposure to the air. In other words, the tape makes contact with any present environmental contaminants, which can get directly on the tape, or even into the tape drive. Also, tapes are exposed to the elements whenever transported to a different location. It only takes a small amount of dust to ruin an entire cassette.
In contrast, hard drives have an airtight seal. These hermetically sealed data storage options are protected from dirt and dust, and can weather the elements better than standard backup tapes.
You can experience problems if you try to get your tape to work in a different tape drive. Over time, the alignment heads will move slightly, making any recording unique to that particular drive. In other words, there will be an issue reading any tape from your drive on any other drive, even if the brand, firmware rev, etc. are identical. You can only pray that your tape drive keeps working forever (it/they won’t – Murphy will make sure that it fails just as you need it the most).
Inefficient and Slow
Tapes cannot be accessed randomly (like a disk can), and have to be viewed sequentially. So, if you need to get a file from the middle, or end, of the cassette, then you may have to go through the entire tape to get that file. This takes way more time than random access of files. For example, on a hard drive you can easily access a specific location and quickly pull the file you need.
Magnetic tapes have high failure rates, up to 20-50% of the time! Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence for a tape cartridge, or drive, to become corrupt. Often, there are no prior indications at all, and you can lose valuable information.
Due to the linear nature of tapes (see previous section), if any portion of the tape malfunctions, then all subsequent data is lost. This means, if the beginning of the tapes becomes corrupt, then you cannot access the remaining data, because of the way the tape drive reads the tape. This is in contrast to what happens if a specific part of a hard drive fails – when you are typically able to access your remaining data files from other parts of the drive.