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How long should you keep backup tapes? When should they be retired?

How long should a tape be in rotation before it is retired?

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If we're talking about TAPE retention and not media retention, it's almost always indefinitely (in my humble opinion). The real answer will depend on your environment. First, look at the type of media you use and see how many passes they specify. Then compare that to the number of times you use the tape in a given week. Remember that "passes" includes every time the tape passes by the head, including rewinds, fast forwards, etc. Most people that I have found find that they will never reach the useful life of a tape.

However, if you're "shoeshining" a lot because you're not streaming the tape (as many people are), all bets are off. This SIGNIFICANTLY increases the number of passes a given backup makes of a single section of your tape, thus significantly decreasing the life of the tape.

The easy answer is, "use a given piece of tape until it gives any errors. Then throw that sucker away!"

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This was first published in August 2003

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