Thousands of businesses use magnetic data tapes for long-term storage, but a small percentage of these companies actually take the time to establish appropriate conditions for their cartridges. By avoiding the storage mistakes listed below, you can greatly extend the operating life of your backup cartridges and minimize system downtime when a data disaster occurs.
Poor Dust Controls - Airborne contaminants can seriously damage data cartridges, and while some dirt and dust is allowable, you should make an effort to keep a clean storage room. If you constantly blow dust off of your tape cartridges' covers, you need to rethink your dust controls.
Clean the storage environment regularly. Keep the tapes in plastic storage cases and use an air purifier to eliminate contaminants. Do not use a purifier with a dehumidifier or humidifier function, however, unless it is part of your relative humidity controls.
You should also establish good media handling protocols. When handling the cartridges, never touch exposed tape for any reason. Make sure to account for all potential sources of contamination, including cigarette smoke, open windows and your HVAC system. Contamination can affect the integrity of your media, so treat it as a serious threat.
High or Low Humidity - While most businesses monitor temperature regularly, many neglect humidity. Magnetic tape attracts water, and a high relative humidity in your storage environment could lead to fungal growth, tape distortion and dozens of other media issues. Low humidity is just as serious of an issue, as it can contribute to oxide loss.
Keep an eye on the relative humidity and temperature in your storage room. While a minor deviation is not cause for concern, regular storage in improper conditions will negatively affect the storage life of your tapes. Anything over 70 percent or under 20 percent relative humidity can seriously affect media integrity. Check with your tape manufacturer for more detailed information.
You should also pay attention to the relationship between temperature and humidity. If your tapes use helical scan technology, try to inversely manage humidity with temperature. For example, if your storage environment is towards the low end of the acceptable relative humidity rating listed in your tapes' documentation, the room temperature should be towards the high end of the acceptable temperature range.
Not Accounting for Sunlight - Sunlight can also affect storage life, and although most tape enclosures prevent magnetic tape from direct encounters with sunlight, you need to keep your storage room shuttered to limit wear.
Likewise, account for all sources of heat in the room. Keep tapes away from heating vents and other potential problem areas. Limit exposure to electronic equipment that might interfere with the magnetic charge of the tape.
Poor Organization - When the time comes to restore from a backup, you need to be able to find the appropriate tape. While most businesses have a disaster recovery plan in place, organization can easily become an issue over time.
Keeping your tapes organized will greatly limit your downtime when a disaster occurs. Make sure that your tapes are clearly labeled and run regular system restore tests. However, do not access the same tapes regularly during these tests; accessing a tape can wear down physical components.
Magnetic tape cartridges can serve as a dependable means of archival storage for upwards of 30 years under the right conditions. Proper storage is an important part of your tape backup strategy, and with the right approach, you can depend on your tape archives as a secondary or tertiary form of data backup for decades to come.