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Why Data Verification Does Not Protect Against Tape Data Loss

Though tape backups are standard in most business operations, few realize just how fragile the media actually is


Data verification is a standard feature for relational database management systems, and many tape backup programs use additional verification to prevent errors during write procedures. Both types of features protect against data loss; verification features on RDBMS applications typically look for entry errors, while tape applications look for write errors during backups.

If you regularly use tape backups to create archives of mission-critical systems, data verification can provide you with peace of mind. When your system detects errors over a certain threshold, you will receive an alert or the backup process will fail. You can then replace damaged tapes.

However, neither feature provides absolute protection from data loss. RDBMS data verification does not perfectly account for user error, and tape error checks only protect against write issues. Logical issues like accidental formats can still leave you without access to your database.

Physical Tape Issues and Data Loss

Data tapes are also susceptible to physical damage, particularly during periods of long-term storage, and some physical failures can mimic logical data issues. At Secure Data Recovery Services, we frequently receive unreadable tapes that have damaged internal components, which prevent a proper restore without easily identifiable symptoms. Many tapes use iron oxide, which can degrade when tapes are stored in an improperly controlled environment, and oxide loss can contribute to corruption errors.

Damaged tape drives can also endanger your media. A large percentage of the tape data recovery cases that we receive have tape flips, tears or breaks where a drive's mechanical components malfunctioned. This type of damage often occurs when oxide on the tape breaks down and causes friction.

You can avoid drive-related damage by storing a blank tape with your backups to test your drive before carrying out read/restore procedures. Replace your tape drives every few years to avoid mechanical component wear.

Avoiding Data Loss and Physical Tape Damage

While data verification does not protect against all types of data loss, it is still an essential feature. Look for a backup system that uses several verification tools to protect your files. If you are backing up databases, look for an RDBMS application that offers protection against corruption.

Always store data tapes in an appropriate, room-temperature environment with controlled humidity. Set up a filtration system to prevent airborne particles from contaminating your media. Check with your tape's manufacturer for detailed storage guidelines.

Finally, double-check your backup systems to make sure that you have appropriate redundancy for your RDBMS. We recommend keeping at least three copies of mission-critical databases. If you are concerned about the inefficiencies involved with creating multiple backups, look into incremental systems, but take the time to set up some sort of consistent system to prevent losses. Keep at least one copy of your data offsite.

Steps to Take After Tape Failures

If you cannot read from a tape due to physical problems like tape breaks or logical data issues, turn off your tape drive. Most tape media damage occurs during recovery attempts in an inappropriately controlled environment, so you should not make any attempt to fix failed components.

Look for a tape data recovery company that has experience with your relational database management system. Make sure that they understand the validation procedures of said system; in many cases, engineers will need to use specialized utilities to treat lost tables and other issues, so a working knowledge of the RDBMS is absolutely essential.

Likewise, your recovery provider should have access to a Certified Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom and experience with your backup tape format. Secure Data Recovery Services offers high recovery rates for all data tape formats, and we offer free diagnostics for LTO, DLT, S-DLT, AIT, QIC, DC2000 and more.

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