Is the practice of backing up your data to tape becoming obsolete? Definitely not. While disk backup is generally the new and more popular option, tape backup still has its advantages. Find out which online storage system   tape or disk   makes sense for your business.

Durability of Tape vs. Disk Backup

Disk wins over backup tapes in the contest of reliability. Tape systems have more moving parts that are susceptible to wear and tear. Also, contaminants in the air can damage the magnetic strips. If a tape system is constantly running, it is likely to need repairs after about three years.

However, the tapes themselves typically last longer than data stored on disk. Disk storage makes up for this flaw by including available features like RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks, a form of data storage) that anticipate drive failure and prevent data loss.

Security of Tape vs. Disk Backup

There is much debate about which medium is more secure. Since tape is more portable and typically stored offline, it is subject to theft from employees and other people entering the data center. For the same reason, tape is less susceptible to theft from hackers. Even if people have a physical tape, they need the correct program and hardware to run it and view the data. If you need your tapes to be more secure, encryption is easy to add.

Price of Tape vs. Disk Backup

Tape is cheaper for smaller firms, up to a point. According to Chris Poelker of Computerworld, "From a purely financial standpoint, tape tends to win for smaller IT shops where the performance requirements are lower than what can be achieved with six to 10 LTO tape drives." The article further shows that using a larger number of smaller LTO-3 tape backup drives is a more cost-effective strategy than using a smaller number of larger drives.

Tape has a smaller initial cost but usually involves more cost over time for maintenance and recovery. However, tapes are still a desirable alternative to disks for long-term storage and archiving, because they provide high-capacity storage for a low initial cost and don't need much maintenance once they are off the grid in storage. Long-term data storage would demand upkeep costs for cooling and electricity.

Performance of Tape vs. Disk Backup

Tape is faster than disk, but tape requires a complex setup to get running at optimum speed. Tape is also slower to access initially, since it has a longer loading time.

Disk backup systems have advanced features such as data deduplication, which can save a lot of storage space by eliminating redundant data. The disadvantage of adding features like data deduplication to your disk backup system increases the cost of your data storage.

Size of Tape vs. Disk Backup

SSD (solid-state drive) technology allows disk storage to contain much more data in a smaller area than a tape backup drive, so data is a better choice if space is a concern. However, tape has the advantage of portability. Once a tape is full of data, you can easily ship the tape to an off-site facility for long-term or permanent storage. Physical transportation is much less likely with disk storage. Instead, disk storage relies on data uploads and downloads via a wireless connection, which is much more costly but an easier solution.

Reputation of Tape vs. Disk Backup

Disk backup wins in this category, hands down. Besides disk being the newer and more socially acceptable data storage system, it is easier to use, requires less maintenance, and can store much more data in a smaller space. Many large corporations rely mainly on disk backup, although some, such as Google, combine tape and disk backup. After all, tape still has its advantages, such as faster writing speeds and cheaper pricing.

Combining Tape and Disk Backups

Perhaps the answer to this debate is not one or the other, but both. If your data-storage needs are large, you are going to need some form of disk backup to start. Disk backup is upgradeable, and this form of backup isn't facing extinction anytime soon.

Once you have collected your data and stored that data on disk for a month or two, offload the data to tapes, where you can store it without the need for continuing electrical expenditures. Make sure the employees storing the tapes are trustworthy and that the storage site is secure.

If you have to choose only one system for online data backup, consider your online data backup needs. Many companies that are beginning business operations should use tape, while others that are growing beyond the point of tape being a cost-effective method should switch to disk. Many factors go into deciding which system to use.

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