Understanding the Advantages and Disadvantages of Tape Backup

Tape backups have played an important role in data storage since the 1970s, but modern cloud storage technology offers a viable alternative to tapes for long-term backup storage. Secure Data Recovery Services handles hundreds of tape data recovery and tape conversion cases each year, and many of our customers ask about the potential advantages and disadvantages of various storage formats.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages to using Tape Backups?

When used properly, data tapes can greatly improve your backup strategy.

In our experience, data tapes offer dependable, flexible functionality along with several significant limitations.

Some of the major advantages of tape backups include:

  • Easy Storage - Most tape formats offer a large storage capacity in a relatively small physical package. Cartridges like LTO-6 give businesses an easy way to back up enterprise-level systems without dedicating entire rooms to server hardware.

  • Dependability - Tape cartridges are not particularly susceptible to physical or electronic damage. They can safely store data for years or decades without suffering from problematic media decay or corruption. However, you need to protect tapes from excessive humidity and extreme temperatures.

  • Low Overall Costs - Tapes cost less in terms of electricity and administration. Media is also fairly affordable in the long-term.

  • Simple Replication - Large businesses can easily make physical copies of mission-critical tape backups. Many formats offer advanced encryption features for enhanced security, which improves the utility of each individual backup.

While tapes have some notable advantages over other media, many businesses find that disk-based and cloud-based storage solutions provide a better return on investment. Tape based systems require occasional upgrades, and disk-based media provides significantly faster access to specific files.

Some of the main disadvantages of tape backups include:

  • Slow Access Speeds - Some tape formats use specialized file systems that allow for relatively fast access to individual files. However, no data tape format allows for true random access to data.

  • High Setup Costs - Installing a new tape system takes a tremendous investment. Businesses need to regularly purchase media and pay ongoing costs for system management.

  • Limit Scalability - While tapes take up less physical room than hard drives, scalability is limited by the capacity of the format. Businesses that use tape drives will eventually need to update to new formats.

  • Potential Media Issues - While data tapes resist physical damage, they gradually wear down over time. Most tape cartridges have a rated storage life of 20-30 years in perfect conditions, but factors like humidity and temperature can cause potentially serious media issues.

In order to decide whether or not data tapes are an appropriate backup option for your business, consider whether or not you need to make full system backups on a regular basis. Determine whether you can update your systems occasionally and whether or not you need physical copies of your backups.

If you decide to upgrade to a new type of backup media, Secure Data Recovery Services can help. We operate the industry's most advanced media conversion and data recovery laboratory, and with numerous security credentials including SSAE 18 Type II certification, we can safely upgrade your media while maintaining your confidentiality. We also offer advanced tape data recovery services through more than 40 facilities in the United States. To get started or for more information, contact our 24/7 tape data recovery line.