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Backup and recovery

Comparing tape backup with online backup

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Peter Thompson

Organisations are experiencing an exponential rate of growth in the volume of their data. This increase is the result of an escalation of business activities.

It is interesting to note that a significant amount of this data comprises valuable, intellectual property. A company’s intellectual property assets need to be managed appropriately in order to ensure they are secure and readily available. As data volumes increase, the values of intellectual property assets increase. Proportionately, so too does the need to ensure that this valuable data is backed up, protected and, most importantly, retrievable. Data must be able to be restored quickly to its original state.

Tape drives have been the mainstay of server backup procedures for the last 20 years. However with improvements in software and the increase in bandwidth, online backup has become a superior alternative to tape backups. We explore and compare some of the primary drivers below.

Recovery time objective

In most disaster recovery plans, the recovery time objective (RTO) is the critical measure around which backup systems are designed. Online data storage is able to deliver near-instant data recovery compared with the delays of retrieving and loading-up backup tapes.


Experts estimate that anywhere from 10% to 40% of backups to a tape, fail. Online data storage, in contrast, provides the reliability of RAID configured hard drives – significantly more reliable than tape storage.

Ease of use

Cloud data storage eliminates the hassles associated with tape backups. Online backups can be automated without any human interaction. Tape backup solutions are technically complicated and require constant attention and careful management.

Offsite storage

Online backups ensure that all files are securely stored off-site from your physical location.  With tape media, it is the responsibility of the backup manager to take or send tapes to an offsite location for safe storage. In addition to creating extra costs, the process of managing the media creates added inconvenience.

Multiple retention periods

The adoption of online backups allows for your IT system files to be rolled back to a point in time when the system was known to be working correctly. Cloud backups can be run frequently e.g. every two hours, while incremental backups can be saved for a long period of time e.g. two years. By comparison, tape drive media needs to be loaded one at a time – a time-consuming process – with the retention period limited to the number of tapes used.

An automated backup

Cloud backups provide complete and accurate backups of all data and system files, on a scheduled or continuous basis, without user intervention. In order for tape backups to be effective, tape media must be rotated on a daily basis by a capable and reliable employee.

Capacity and storage time

Tape drives have limits to their storage capacity. As the amount of the data within the business increases, tradeoffs are often implemented e.g. incremental backups or multiple tapes. Tape-drive backup windows reduce as the amount of data increases. With cloud backups, the use of an on-site vault provides disk-to-disk backup and recovery, which is supplemented by an online backup that offers continuous data archiving from where data can be readily accessed.


Cloud backup is delivered as a service. There is no need to purchase, upgrade and repair hardware, and no consumable media to worry about. In addition, automated backups give company employees time to focus on the core business, rather than data backups. Comparatively, tape backups require hardware, software and media, plus the engineering time necessary for installation and maintenance.

Technology obsolescence

Tape drive manufacturers and software vendors are in the business of new product, which means ‘current’ models quickly become obsolete. With today’s technology, businesses need to replace tapes and drives every three years. Online backup is delivered as a service and therefore the costs of maintenance are borne by the service provider.

Restoration time and costs

The time required for the restoration of a single file from a tape is at least thirty minutes. Restoration often requires the intervention of engineering or IT services to restore data from tapes. A managed backup service provides a simple user interface for restoring files, along with readily available technical support.

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About Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson founded GCOMM in 1996. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering/Information Systems from Griffith University and his MBA from Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Holland. He believes in building great teams of people, both in business and socially.
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