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Deep Storage: Does Tape Have a Place?

You can set your watch by IT. Every couple of months, a pundit announces that with the falling price of SATA disks and copious network bandwidth, we should put tape on the pile of obsolete technology with core memory and drum storage. I have my own love-hate--OK, mostly hate--relationship with tape; I wouldn't shed a tear if I never dealt with tapes again. But is the tapeless data center reasonable for a typical midsize company, or is it as likely as the paperless bathroom?

I've come to the conclusion that small businesses are better off without tape. Online data vaulting is perfect for small businesses. Sign up for service from U.S. Data Trust, eVault, LiveVault or any of a multitude of vendors and you'll get backup software and the disaster protection of off-site storage that you never got with tape--all for as little as $100 per month for 10 GB. That's enough for the QuickBooks files and other critical small-enterprise data.

Sensible folks realize that encryption, and the vaulting vendor's need to stay in business, make storing data on someone else's servers safe. They worry, however, about how a total server failure and a total restore of their 10 GB would take 33 hours over a low-end DSL line. Sure, a restore from tape would go much faster, but not all data carries the same priority in such a restore. Since a QuickBooks file is typically 500 MB, you could restore it to a workstation while rebuilding the server. Accounting is up and running before you even have backup Exec reinstalled.

Larger businesses, with more data to protect and a staff that's capable of managing backups, aren't going to find an online vaulting service nearly as attractive. They'll have to pay bigger storage fees and increase their Internet bandwidth to get reasonable restore times. That means backing up on-site.

Performing backups on-site, however, doesn't necessarily imply tape. Snapshots, or disk-to-disk backups, allow for on-demand single file or other small restores more easily than restoring from tape. But disk space must match the service level. A promise to be able to restore files back 30 days implies having enough disk space for 30 days of incremental backups. If a server dies or a volume is corrupted, restoring from disk is similarly easier and faster than from tape.

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