Offsite backup tape storage and choosing a tape vaulting service

Given the critical nature of offsite backup tape storage, you must perform due diligence in selecting a tape vaulting service.

What you will learn in this tip: Organizations that back data up to tape typically rely on a tape vaulting service to carry backup tapes offsite. That way, if the data center is destroyed by a disaster such as a fire or a tornado, the backups won't be destroyed along with the data center. Given the critical nature of offsite backup tape storage, it's important to perform due diligence in selecting a tape vaulting service. This tip discusses...

criteria for choosing an offsite tape storage service.

What does an offsite backup tape storage service cost?

One of the first considerations most organizations take into account when shopping for an offsite backup tape storage service is the cost of the service. As you examine the cost of offsite backup tape storage, it's important to keep in mind that tape vaulting services are notorious for having a lot of hidden charges. For example, some tape vaulting services use different tiers of pricing depending on whether the tape is placed on a rack or if it remains in a shipping container.

Some tape vaulting services may also add a fuel surcharge to customer’s bills because of high gas prices. Of course the only way that a tape vaulting service can hit you with a fuel surcharge is if they have included a provision for such a charge in the service contract. That's just one of many reasons why it is important to read the fine print.

The most common variable in the cost of offsite backup tape storage is pickup and delivery. Generally speaking, the more frequently the tape vaulting service visits your facility to pick up or drop off tapes the more the service will cost you. Most tape vaulting services also charge a premium if you need a tape retrieved on short notice, such as might be the case after a disaster.

Disaster protection

Since the entire reason for storing tapes offsite is to protect the tapes from disaster, it only makes sense to choose a tape vaulting service that has taken steps to prevent disaster-related data loss.

Ideally, the tape vaulting service that you choose should have vaults that are equipped with ferromagnetic shielding. This shielding protects tapes against magnetism and other forms of electromagnetic radiation that might otherwise erase or corrupt tapes.

Adequate fire protection is also critical for any facility that is used to store tapes. Any offsite backup tape service that you interview will tell you that they have good fire protection in place. However, some facilities offer better fire protection than others. When it comes to fire protection, you should insist that the storage facility be NFPA 232 certified.

A facility that is NFPA 232 certified complies with all of the codes set forth by the National Fire Protection Association for the protection of records. You can learn more about NFPA 232 certification requirements by visiting the NFPA Web site.

Physical security

Just as a tape vaulting service needs to provide a facility that is resistant to natural disasters, the storage facility also needs to have good physical security. If you really stop and think about it, most organizations go to great lengths to keep data from walking out the door. For example, organizations might use access control mechanisms that prevent users from copying data to USB storage devices.

When you use a tape vaulting service, you are actually sending data out the door. That being the case, you need to be able to trust the service provider to store your data in a secure facility so that your backup tapes are not compromised.

On a side note, if you do use a tape vaulting service then you should make sure that all of your backup tapes are encrypted. Remember, there is nothing stopping a rogue employee of the offsite backup tape service from setting up their own server and restoring your backup tapes in an effort to steal your data.

The importance of service-level agreements

Any reputable tape vaulting service should provide you with a service-level agreement (SLA) that stipulates the terms of the service that you will receive. Specifically, the SLA sets terms regarding how quickly tapes will be delivered in the event of a disaster.

As important as the terms of the SLA are, it is equally important to ensure that the SLA is negotiable. After all, your tape vaulting service should meet your needs rather than requiring you to change your disaster recovery procedures so that you can adhere to the tape vaulting service’s schedule.

In any case, you need to ensure that the SLA states that tapes can be delivered to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is critically important since disasters have a way of happening late at night or on the weekends.

Tracking and compliance

Finally, the tape vaulting service that you choose should be able to provide you with a full audit trail of the tapes they pick up and deliver. You should also expect to be able to access a Web-based tape inventory system that allows you to see which tapes the service provider has and to track any tapes that might be missing.

As you can see, there are a number of different things that you should look for when choosing an offsite backup tape service. To get the best service, it's important to do a little upfront work to save you time and money in the long run.

About the author:
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in June 2011
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