Backup and Archiving Media Madness

Five years ago, it was unheard of to suggest replacing tape media with disk for backups and archiving in a data center environment. Now I find myself lecturing in rooms full of people on the potential merits of using disk for those same functions; 72 percent of those surveyed are interested in using disk somewhere in their backup environments, a solid indication that disk has made significant inroads and isn't just another fad.


Why the rush to dump the tried-and-true technology of tape media for its spinning cousin? Did the 72 percent surveyed suddenly realize that tape is bad and disk is good? And what about the 28 percent not considering disk? What do they see in tape over disk? Let's start with why people want to leave tape.

Does Tape Get a Bad Rap?
Tapes reliability concerns most customers. It's every IT managers nightmare: During a data-center recovery, the one tape containing the organizations most critical data is corrupted and cant be read. Imagine deleting or breaking the only VHS tape of your wedding day. Now picture needing that tape to run your household and you can understand the nightmares of those poor IT managers. Although some enterprise-class backup software products such as IBM* Tivoli* Storage Manager minimize this exposure with processes that constantly recycle and refresh the tape volumes, the possibility of corruption remains a major drawback in relying on tape media.

Many also consider tape technology old and say it can't be a viable solution to modern problems. Indeed, tape technology recently celebrated its 50th birthday, but consider that the first true disk drive, the IBM 3340 Winchester sealed hard disk drive, was created in 1973. While neither technology is a new kid on the block, neither is ready for retirement. Both technologies are constantly being improved and new performance and capacity thresholds are being achieved on a regular basis. IBM's TotalStorage* Enterprise Tape Drive 3592 J1, which offers a native data transfer rate of up to 40 MB/sec and tape volume capacities of up to 900 GB (with 3:1 compression), is just one example of new tape technology. As long as tape technologies continue to advance, tape will remain a viable solution.

Two legitimate discrepancies between disk and tape that concern users are the difference in cost and the speed of disk for restoring a system versus that of tape. Disk prices have dropped steadily for years, but in the last few years they've plummeted, raising the argument that disk is almost as inexpensive to use as tape. Advanced technology attachment (ATA) serial disk arrays like IBMs FAStT storage servers have come to the forefront as viable, low-cost alternatives to tape.


Tape and disk are both great tools that can be used together to provide short-term and long-term protection of your data assets.

Stephen Firmes is a senior engineer with SEPATON, Inc. Stephen can be reached at

comments powered by Disqus



2018 Solutions Edition

A Comprehensive Online Buyer's Guide to Solutions, Services and Education.

IBM Systems Magazine Subscribe Box Read Now Link Subscribe Now Link iPad App Google Play Store
IBMi News Sign Up Today! Past News Letters