Why Tape Backup Is Experiencing a Renaissance in the Digital Era


Plenty of IT pros have predicted the demise of tape storage as a backup medium. They talk about the drawbacks of the technology—and those aren't insignificant. Tapes can be labor-intensive, requiring a manual process to change them at the beginning or end of every day. That's just too much to handle for many small and medium businesses. Even worse, tapes can also be misplaced or even lost. No wonder tape storage has a dubious reputation in many IT pros' minds. And it's no wonder that we're seeing a steady migration to flash storage and cloud storage.

But what if we told you that tape as a means of data storage is more relevant than ever? Even with all of its drawbacks?

While the mainframe computer allegedly died more than 20 years ago, it's still a proven technology in many large enterprises. Tape shares a similar story. In reality, tape capacity shipments are increasing, with the Tape Storage Council recently reporting that a record 114,079 PB of linear tape-open (LTO) capacity shipped in 2019—a 400 percent increase since 2009.

Here are five reasons why tape storage may be a wise choice to include in your backup plan when weighing your options.

1. Tape delivers better protection against ransomware

Many of today’s data storage technologies, like cloud storage, can’t completely protect you against the growing threat of ransomware attacks. Tape backup is offline—creating an air gap that physically isolates backups—so it can’t be easily infiltrated by malware or any other kind of cyberattack. Tape can serve as your last line of defense if your backup tapes are kept at offsite locations or in storage vaults. Even if ransomware penetrates all your other defenses, it still won’t be able to hold your data hostage if it is safely backed up on tape. It's ironic that, while we become more and more connected and digitized, we can still rely on the relic that is tape to give us added protection and secure our data against ransomware.

Tape offers security benefits, including a write-once-read-many format. That means you write on it once, and it can never be overwritten or deleted, either unintentionally or by cyber attackers. This is a critical feature because tape is beyond the reach of both outside hackers and insider attacks—say, a disgruntled employee that tries to delete all your data—completely negating those threats.

2: Tape can survive disasters

There's a reason tape has survived for so long. Backing up data on tape and sending it offsite is still a highly reliable disaster recovery method. What if your office burns down or there’s a once-in-a-century flood? Or any other kind of natural disaster, for that matter? The safest way to protect your data is to put it on tape in a secure remote location. That’s why smart organizations will never stop using tape storage.

3: Tape is cost-effective

The cost of tape storage keeps going down while its storage capacity keeps increasing. Tape is still one of the least expensive options for long-term data archiving. Fujifilm says tape is three to four times cheaper to use than disk for long-term storage. The leading tape backup format is LTO and, with the introduction of LTO-8 several years ago, you can store up to 30TB of data compressed on a single tape.

But there's more to come. Soon, LTO generation 12 will store up to 480TB compressed on one tape. That means tape can easily accommodate the wave of massive data growth that continues within almost every organization.

4: Tape makes insurers happy

Cyber liability insurance is designed to cover losses and penalties associated with a data breach or other cyberattack. But large insurance providers are getting more selective when underwriting new cyber policies. Many will only insure customers that have ironclad data-protection strategies.

That's pushing businesses to increase their investments in data security tools and processes to prove they are a worthwhile risk to insurance providers. An A-to-Z strategy that includes disk storage, cloud storage, and tape storage enhances your risk profile from a cyber insurance provider's perspective. It's definitely worth talking to your insurance company to ask if they will reduce your premiums since you back up to tape.

Even better, companies with an end-to-end security strategy that includes backup and recovery and storage may not even need cyber insurance. If you have three different storage media at your disposal, you can protect yourself in pretty much any potential data-loss scenario.

5: Tape lasts much longer

Data storage professionals say that there are two types of hard disks: those that have failed and those that will fail. While it's true that modern technologies like magnetic storage, flash storage, and cloud storage offer a lot in terms of performance and flexibility, these technologies can't hold a candle to tape storage when it comes to shelf life. Not even close. The average lifespan of tape storage is 30 years. On the other hand, disk storage typically starts to fail after about five years. Today, tape storage is the only medium that will preserve your data well into the future.

Tape may be one of the oldest methods for data storage, but it is still highly relevant for backup and recovery. Even with the migration of primary and secondary storage to disks and the cloud, tape will continue to play a vital role in modern data centers for years to come.

Learn more about Arcserve tape backup solutions, or contact us to talk to a data protection, backup, and recovery expert.