Did we move too far away from tape for backup? Posted on Jun 10th, 2019 by Peter Eicher

Categories: DPX

For the oldsters like me who’ve been around the backup world for a long time, we remember when tape was the only game in town. I even remember flash-in-the-pan technologies like tape RAID, which was an attempt to get backups going faster. In that very old linked article, it mentions that “just over the horizon” are tapes that will hold a massive 50 GB per cartridge! (If you’ve been out of the tape loop – hah hah – current LTO technology fits 12 TB on a cartridge uncompressed, which is close to a 24,000 percent improvement. Yes, kids, times change.)

There were a lot of good reasons to move backups to disk instead of tape: faster backup and restore, direct access vs. linear access to files, and you can do fancy stuff like spin up full system recoveries right from the backup repository (Catalogic invented that, by the way!). The move to disk was so strong that many organizations ended up getting rid of tape altogether. But have we gone too far in the disk direction?

On that topic, I recommend this short and informative video from George Crump of Storage Switzerland. Crump starts with the simple point that while most organizations keep backup data from 5 to 7 years, most recoveries happen within ten days of backup. In fact, 95% are from the most recent backup, and it drops quickly after that. As he notes, “We’re storing a lot of data on disk that will never be accessed again.” The question becomes: is it time to “reintroduce tape to the backup process”?

There are a lot of big advantages that Crump points out:

  • Tape is less expensive, even compared to cloud
  • Tape offers greater density (multiple terabytes per cartridge)
  • Tape is more transportable (tapes can be shipped anywhere)
  • Tape uses less power (drives only run when in use; tapes on the shelf use no power)

Yes, disk is still much better for fast recovery of short-term data, but nobody is saying to get rid of disk. The problem is that for organizations that got rid of tape entirely, they may have ended up spending more than they need to. Returning to tape could yield significant benefits. Consider that you could reduce your backup storage by something like 50-80% by moving older data to tape. That’s a lot less disk to worry about.

As Crump sums it up, “Using tape as part of the back process makes sense. It always made sense. We probably went too far in the other direction.”

If you left tape behind and are considering going back – or if you think you’re just spending too much on your current backup software – consider looking at Catalogic DPX. Unlike some of the more recent backup products that bolted tape support on and never really did it right, we’ve been doing tape from the start. We know our way around a tape library.

And you don’t necessarily have to replace all of your backups. We’ve been hearing a lot lately from organizations looking to offload their NDMP backups to something more cost-effective in order to reduce their costly capacity licenses on their legacy backups. DPX can function as an NDMP-only backup product while saving you a bundle.