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How Iron Oxide Loss Can Damage Your Data Tape Archives

Tape back-ups are a staple of data recovery but over time their reliability can be reduced by the elements


Data tapes and cartridges serve an important function in enterprise-level data storage infrastructure. Tapes provide a relatively inexpensive and dependable way to create archives; and if your business ever needs to restore its systems or recreate data from a specific point in time, these archives can prove invaluable.

Of course, in order to see any benefit from data tapes and cartridges, you need to make sure that they are in working condition. This is easier said than done due to oxide loss, which occurs as data tapes sit in storage. In order to keep your business's data storage systems functional, you need to consider the possibility of oxide issues and take appropriate steps to protect your data archives.

Why Oxide Loss is a Major Problem

Tapes use thin coatings of ferrous-oxide, chromium oxide and zinc oxide to store electronic information. As oxide gradually decays, the tapes lose their ability to retain information. The read/write heads of the tape drive may also stick to the tape, causing tears, rips and other serious issues.

Storage conditions can greatly affect a tape's operating lifespan. Most manufacturers recommend a relative humidity of 40 to 50 percent. Excessively dry or humid conditions can accelerate deterioration of some tape drive components.

Some chemical gases can also accelerate the process, although chemical deterioration is not an especially common problem for enterprise-level data tape and cartridge systems. For the best possible results, you should store your data tapes and cartridges in a neutral environment. Do not expose them to direct sunlight. Keep the storage area clean at all times and do not handle the tapes unnecessarily. Keep a steady room temperature for your storage environment and never expose your tapes to excessive heat or cold.

Even when stored perfectly, eventually tapes will experience oxide issues. The exact rate of tape decomposition varies from one tape cartridge to the next, but you can usually find out the expected operating lifespan by checking the documentation that came with the tapes. Cartridge-specific factors that affect oxide loss include tape construction and magnetic material type; newer tapes may hold data for much longer than older tapes for this reason. You can avoid some oxide issues by regularly updating your tape drives and by occasionally replacing your tape storage media.

Keeping Dependable Tape Archives

You should back up all important data in at least three physical locations. If you need to keep a running archive of your business's systems or if you need time-specific restore points, back up your archives every few years.

You can reduce the chances of read/write issues substantially by using your tapes once or twice at the most. Do not repeatedly write over your tapes. This can substantially decrease the overall reliability of your archives.

Write all tapes with clean, fully functional equipment. Immediately repair or replace any tape drives that show signs of wear. Damaged tape drives have a higher chance of causing damage when they come into contact with oxide-depleted tapes. You should test older tapes regularly and keep your archives well organized.

Finally, have a plan in place to help you recover from data loss. If you cannot read an important data tape, immediately contact a professional data recovery company. Do not attempt to recover the tape on your own. Your tape drive may damage the tape or cartridge, lowering the chances of a full recovery.

A professional data recovery company can help by restoring oxide layers using special equipment in certified clean rooms. Because oxide issues can get worse over time, you should immediately Contact Secure Data Recovery Services at 1-800-388-1266 for assistance.

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