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Backup guidelines: Keeping off-site storage 'in-house'

You may have considered handling your long-term tape media storage internally for security or cost-efficiency reasons. This tip provides in-house tape handling and storage information that can save you some future pains and unpleasant surprises.

What you will learn from this tip: You may have considered handling your long-term tape media storage internally for security or cost-efficiency reasons. This tip provides tape handling and storage information that can save you some future pains and unpleasant surprises.

Your organization may have recently implemented a disk backup product, leading to a decrease in tape media usage. Or, your vault service provider may have lost or misplaced some of your backup tape volumes at some point. The growing media attention given to data security or unauthorized access may have you concerned as to how secure your backup tapes are. Whatever the reason, the thought of eschewing vault service providers to handle offsite media storage in-house has crossed the mind of many administrators (and, in fact, many small organizations have done so already).

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While it may seem like a more secure and cost-efficient way to manage your offsite-bound data, numerous factors must be considered before making this decision. For those who are considering or have already elected to take the in-house approach, here are some important points:

Tape transport
Some types of tape media are more susceptible than other types to shock or impact. With half-inch-wide tape now offering over 700 tracks, proper media packaging and handling becomes important. Simply throwing some tapes in a box in the back of the car is not the preferred approach. Tapes should be protected from shock and transported (and stored) on edge rather than flat.

Sudden temperature changes can also be very damaging to tapes and cause data loss. Media should always be allowed to become acclimatized before is it used.

Tape storage
Long-term storage is probably the most damaging to magnetic media if conditions are not monitored and maintained at an optimal level. Temperature, relative humidity (RH), airborne contaminants and sources of magnetic fields can all cause media deterioration over time. All tape manufactures publish recommended long-term storage specifications for their specific type of media and that documentation should be consulted to ensure optimal environmental conditions are met. However, in general, the following guidelines apply to long-term tape storage:

  • Many manufacturers recommend that long-term storage temperatures be kept under 70 Fahrenheit (21 C).
  • High RH has been known to cause the media binder (what binds the metal particles to the tape) to chemically react on occasions. RH below 50% is usually preferred for long-term storage.
  • Airborne contaminants such as dust or other particulates are definitely to be avoided. However, other less obvious contaminants can cause deterioration over time. Some of the ones commonly listed are chloride ions (i.e., in some cleaners), ozone, sulfides (i.e., from diesel fuel), chemicals used in photo processing, etc.
  • Any significant source of magnetic fields is obviously to be avoided. It goes without saying that storing your collection of fridge magnets with your backup tapes is an all-around bad idea!
  • Don't forget the obvious -- tape media should be protected from fire and water damage.

Media tracking
While most of today's enterprise backup products offer various degrees of media cataloging and inventory, the same cannot be said about media storage racks. It is imperative that your offsite storage location provides some sort of media inventory or tracking capability. This is especially important if you store a large number of tapes or share the storage facilities with tapes from other origins or operating platforms.

There is more to long-term tape media storage than simply stacking tapes on a shelf at the remote office and a safe distance away from the production data. Tapes stored under less than optimal environmental conditions can lead to data loss and potentially serious regulatory exposures. Unless your organization can provide an ideal environment for long-term storage, this responsibility is better left to specialized vault service providers.

Do you know…

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About the author: Pierre Dorion is a certified business continuity professional for Mainland Information Systems Inc.

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