Disk is now the predominant backup medium, but tape still plays an important role. What do you do if you’ve migrated your main backup strategy to disk but still need to access older archives that are stored on tape formats? Rather than paying to maintain little-used tape readers and the backup software that goes with them, one solution is to put a company on contract to perform that work.
That’s the essential logic behind the ‘Tape Maintenance Service’ offered by data recovery specialist Kroll Ontrack. “We’re acting as a tape bureau to allow companies to give us the ability the ability to restore those legacy archives,” Kroll Ontrack APAC general manager Adrian Briscoe told Lifehacker. “Ultimately, nobody is going to transfer all their tape services onto live storage.”
As Briscoe notes, while active data and recent backups now often resides on disk-based systems, archive requirements can stretch well beyond the commonly-quoted seven-year period. One client maintained medical records for a 77-year period.
“We have a banking cliient with 3000 legacy tapes, and last year they moved to a disk-based solution. Nobody wants to restore all the data and clog up the new system. This gives them a way of getting back data cost-effectively without having to hold equipment. To maintain those software licences can be expensive. ”
The service normally works on a contract basis; customers sign up to convert a number of tapes per year, and then pay a per-tape price for each option converted. That price starts at about $150 per tape with a 50-tape minimum, but the per-tape cost drops for larger orders. Tapes are typically couriered to Kroll’s Brisbane premises and the contents returned encrypted on external drives, but urgent files can be accessed via FTP. (In Hong Kong, a Kroll Ontrack mobile “tape truck” service visits premises for banks and financial institutions and performs transfers on the spot — an option sadly unlikely to appear in Australia’s geographically-diverse market.)
The required data from those backups varies. “Typically it’s to get back email — certainly in the financial industry there’s an emphasis there,” Briscoe said.
Auditing during a company merger or acquisition is another common reason, as are legal requests. “HR matters can be an issue, although they tend to be more current,” Briscoe noted.
Which physical formats are most commonly sought? “Typically we’re seeing mainly LTO 1-3 — not a lot of LTO 4-5 as it’s still current,” Briscoe said. Often, the data format can be a challenge. “We’ve recently done a tape project which was restoring IBM Tivoli data and there were issues with a service provider reading the tapes, so we had to develop our tools to read the data stream.”
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.