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Why do we need tape?

For small businesses (with total hard drive capacity of all machines between 500-1000 GB) does buying expensive and slow tapes even make sense anymore? With hard drive prices dropping below $0.60/GB, does buying backup servers based solely on hard drives make more sense? They are far faster and probably just as reliable.

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This question comes back on a regular basis and the answer has not changed much (so far). It is true that backing up to disk makes sense from both a performance and cost perspective. It is also true that redundant disk arrays are arguably as reliable as tape. So why use tapes one might ask?

The problem with disk arrays is that they don't travel well. This can become a problem when developing an offsite storage strategy. It is not always possible to transfer large amounts of data from a local to a remote disk array due to network bandwidth limitations or budgetary constrains. In addition, depending on your organization's backup data retention policy, it can be difficult to accommodate long-term storage of backups or archives using only disk storage. Tapes are much better suited and cost effective for this type of application. A massive amount of tape storage can be kept in a vault with a fraction of the power requirements for the equivalent disk storage.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to send as much backup data to disk as possible. But good old tape storage still has its place and use.

This was first published in March 2005

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