Tape vs. Disk vs. Business Continuity Backup – Which Is Best for Disaster Recovery? (Part 1 of 2)

For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, you already know that Winter Is Coming. In the show, this statement means that you must always stay vigilant and always be prepared for the worst.

In real life (you know, that boring realm where dragons don’t exist), you’ll still need to be prepared for winter because here in the Northeast, we’ll be sure to have a variety of winter storms starting soon. If recent years are any indication, we can expect blizzards, full whiteouts, and city-slowing snowfalls – which means your business must stay vigilant and prepared for the worst.

In other words, you must focus on backup and disaster recovery solutions so that, when disaster comes, you’ll be ready.

Therefore, let’s talk about backup strategies.

The Importance of Backup in the Winter Months

Here in New York, we’re hardy folk. Not only do we regularly withstand the cold, biting chill of winter, we do so while also navigating our bustling metropolis, which throws daily winter hazards in our way. (Think sidewalk ice in dress shoes, snowy traffic on the Cross Bronx, and those brutal skyscraper wind tunnels on a sleet-filled morning. Ugh.)

Since we withstand all these everyday issues throughout the long winter months, we assume our technology can also “weather the storm.” However, think about that assumption for a moment and you’ll realize that of course, our tech isn’t as strong as we are – we’re New Yorkers!

Winter brings a wide range of tech troubles, including condensation inside cold, wet laptops and phones, as well as the threat of snowmelt floods that can compromise your server room. Those are all in addition to the year-round tech hazards we all face every day: breaches, hacks, or mysterious and frustrating computer errors, such as missing files or crashing apps.

But even in the winter months when your technology takes a beating, your business must keep running all day, every day, no matter what. After all, your customers spend their days and nights in the city that never sleeps, and your business is a part of that.

The best way to ensure that your business isn’t slowed down by winter weather is to have a good backup solution in place, but that means you’ll need to make a choice between tape, disk, and business continuity duplication/replication backup methods.

In this two-part series, we’ll explore your options.

Tape Backup: A Blast from the Past

The first tape backup was created in 1951, back when gas cost a mere 19 cents per gallon and the average family income was a whopping $3,700. 1951 is also the year that the term “Rock N Roll” was invented. This is a long time ago, folks, yet many businesses are still relying on tape backup today to store their critical business data.

Don’t misunderstand. Tape is still a great archival medium because it safely stores material for years, costs very little, and keeps offering bigger and better storage capacity. In fact, Google and Amazon both use tape backup for some of their data, which is a strong endorsement.

The main benefits to tape backup include:

  • Cost

Tape is by far the cheapest solution available, which makes it an attractive option for cash-strapped start-ups. When you also factor in the low costs of data storage, tape becomes an even cheaper alternative. This is because tape doesn’t require energy while in storage. It only requires a clean space, usually in an off-site location.

  • Data integrity

Large data centers still rely on tape backups because they typically have fewer unrecoverable bit errors than disk backups do. “Unrecoverable bit errors” is simply a fancy, tech-speak way of saying that when a computer messes up and writes a 0 instead of a 1 on a storage medium, it doesn’t catch and correct the error, which can corrupt data.

In addition, tape often safely stores data for longer periods of time than disk backups can. While it’s a good idea to limit disk storage to less than 5 years, the same data can be securely stored on tape for up to 30 years if kept in a pristine environment.

  • Storage space

From 1952 to 2010, storage space on a single tape reel grew from 2.3 MB to 4 TB, which is an increase of more than 2 million times. These days, tape storage is even more impressive, leaping from 4 TB to 154 TB to 220 TB to 330 TB in less than a decade. That’s a lot of storage.

However, even with tape’s many benefits, it’s not the best solution for disaster recovery. This is because:

  • Tape restores data very slowly, even after you’ve accounted for the time it took to ship your tapes from their storage location to your offices.
  • Granular restoration may not be possible with tape backups, and when it is, it requires a long and arduous searching process.
  • Tape is not suited for incremental backups (which are best for disaster recovery) because tape systems actually back up too quickly. Remember the forward-rewind-forward method of trying to find a specific point on a VHS? That’s how a tape system stores incremental backups, and it’s not good for the tape.

The best use for tape is as a low-cost, archival form of storage that’s housed securely off-site. If you don’t need the data, but you can’t delete it yet, tape is probably the best cost-effective solution to meet your needs.

Find out the truth about disk backup and business continuity options, such as backup appliances and DRaaS, in Part 2 of this article, coming soon.

Don’t want to wait for the next article? Need to find the best backup solution now, before storm season is officially here? Contact the backup and disaster recovery experts at BitxBit to learn more about your options.

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