Tape is not dead, and why I finally bought a tape library

Backup tapesBeing the “Cloud Backup Guy” I’ve made a living off replacing tape. Tape is that legacy media right? It’s true that for most small to medium businesses, tape is hard to manage, expensive to rotate offsite, and has virtually been replaced by disk-to-disk (or disk-to-disk-to-cloud) technologies. However, I am finally willing to say tape definitely has it’s place.

Related article: Is Tape Dead?

Given that I have been so anti-tape for many years, I thought it was news to share when I finally decided that tape had it’s place. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had nearly 30 years of IT consulting experience. In the old days I used nothing but tape as it was the only real option for data protection. I’ve also had my share of bad experiences with tape (mostly the old 4mm and 8mm drives and tapes). I hated the stuff and never wanted to rely on it. Like many seasoned IT professionals of the past, many of us had nightmares to tell about tape backup. When I got into the Cloud Backup business, the passion I had for disliking tape really helped me convince folks not to use it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think for most SMB’s tape is dead. However, as your data volume grows, and I am talking 50TB+ of data, you can not ignore the efficiency and cost effectiveness of good old tape. Tape has also come a long, long way over the years. Gone are the days of 4mm and 8mm DAT tapes.  LTO, the clear tape standard for the modern era, boasts LTO-7, now with a native capacity of 6TB+ (15TB compressed) per tape cartridge. LTO offers a reliable and cost effective method to store huge quantities of data at a much lower cost than disk storage technology.

What brought about this decision to finally embrace tape? Backup Blue Marker

The decision to choose tape became apparent as we were gobbling up more and more disk space for cloud backups. Our growth rate has been significant and trying to keep up with backup growth meant buying more and more disk. It’s not just the cost of disk we had to buy, but the rack space, the power, cooling, and other costs associated with hundreds of spinning disks, plus the cost of replicating the data to another data center with more spinning disks!  A significant segment of our backup storage was consumed by long-term archival storage of older data that continued to grow rapidly as data ages.

Related: Archiving – Align the value of your data with the cost to protect it

Our cloud backup solution allows tiering of the data so that older, less frequently used data could be pushed to longer-term archival storage. Once I faced the decision to have to buy even more disk versus the cost of a tape solution to store the ever growing mountain of archive data, it became a no-brainer. Tape was the clear winner in that type of scenario.

Allow me to stress that I am not a proponent of tape except for all but the largest of companies or others who required long-term archive of a large amount of data. It still introduces manual labor to swap and store tapes, take them offsite, etc. For near and medium term data, we still keep everything stored on disk for quick and easy access. However, for the long-term archival data, we are using tape and love the stuff. The nice thing is that our customers still don’t have to worry about using tape as we manage everything for them.

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Why You Need a Backup/Disaster Recovery MSP

From the one-person office, to the largest enterprise and anywhere in between, every company and individual has information that needs to be managed, backed-up, and stored. Most corporations and small companies are turning to a MSP (Managed Service Provider) to handle their backup and DR (Disaster Recovery) needs. This raises a question asked for businesses of any size: Why do YOU need a backup/disaster recovery MSP?

The summed up response to the question is simple: ExpertiseService Provider AbstractThe experts agree and believe that DR planning requires “complex preparation and flawless execution.” This task may not be possible to be executed by an individual or company without the proper MSP. It is the MSP’s responsibility to handle customer needs and monitor DR plans to minimize RTO (recovery time objectives). We are all aware that disasters happen around us, whether it is a natural disaster or a service outage. It is the MSP’s job to make sure that the companies are prepared. Protecting company data is a vital task in the digital world of today.

For most companies without a MSP, backing up data and disaster recovery can easily be neglected. The process of backup and disaster recovery is usually a part-time job within the company. For instance, there is seldom an individual with the sole task of data backup and recovery in an enterprise. Regardless of size, companies need full-time monitoring and planning for their backup/disaster recovery needs.

Other projects at work can easily sidetrack backups. Without a MSP, many people tend to neglect the company’s backups due to other projects they are focused on at the office. The task may be put on the back burner for other company needs. With the help of an MSP, backups will never be neglected.

In some occasions, a company may designate a person with the least experience to manage backups. They may underestimate the importance of consistent monitoring of their data so they pass the task down to “the new guy/girl.” Without the proper expertise provided by a MSP, the company could be at risk of losing data.

A backup administrator is not an expert. It is crucial that backup and disaster recovery planning and monitoring is handled by a true expert for the sake of the company’s data. Lack of knowledge leads to inefficient or problematic backups. Also, system restores are rarely practiced unless they are handled by a MSP.

How Managecast fixes these issues:

Managecast Technologies covers the company’s backup and disaster recovery needs. We provide enterprise-class, industrial-grade backup to businesses of all sizes. Managecast uses top software providers and partners including Asigra, Veeam, and Zerto to ensure that data is fully monitored and stored. They provide the proper expertise to execute proper DR planning and business continuity. Instead of putting your company’s backup/disaster recovery plan on the side, turn to the experts at Managecast Technologies to fix these issues. We assist with all aspects of setup of the backups from retention rules, schedules, and how to best protect the data in the most cost effective manner.managecast-Logo1-small

Is Backup Tape Dead?

I just had someone contact me and ask my opinion if I thought backup tape is dead.

Maybe 6 years ago I would have enthusiastically said “Yes!”, and did so many times. However, after spending the last 6 years dedicated to cloud backup and immersed in the backup industry, my views have evolved on tape.

Instead of asking “Is tape dead?”, the proper question is “Has the use of tape changed?”. While tape is far from dead and very much alive, it’s use has substantially changed over the past 5 to 10 to 15 years. In the past, tape was the go-to medium for backups of all types. However, disk has certainly displaced a lot of tape when it comes to near line backup storage of recently created data. Many modern backup environments consist of disk-to-disk backup and then backup data is written to tape after some period of time for longer-term storage and archive.

Disk storage is significantly higher cost than tape storage, but for near term backup data the advantages of disk outweigh the cost penalty. For long-term archive of older data, where quick access is not needed, tape is the clear winner.

[Read about aligning the cost of data protection vs the value of the data]

In my experience, many SMBs have shifted to a disk-to-disk-to-cloud solution with no tape. So, in the SMB one could argue that tape has largely died (or at least diminished greatly). However, at the enterprise-level or those organizations who require long-term retention of backup data, there is no better alternative to storing large amounts of data on tape, and this will probably be the case for the next 10 years or beyond. So, no, tape is not dead, but it’s use has changed.

 

 

 

 

The difference between disaster recovery, backup and business continuity

I sometimes see words like backup and disaster recovery used interchangeably, and sometimes in the wrong context. I see a customers asking for a DR solution when they need backup and DR. Some refer to it in the industry as BDR (Backup & Disaster Recovery).

So what’s the difference? Why should you care?

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery is about restoring critical IT functions quickly after a disaster. Disasters can be small from a critical server failing, to natural disasters like fire, flooding, tornado, hurricane to manmade disasters such as construction accidents, theft, sabotage, chemical spills, that may render your entire site unusable. The idea of DR is to restore critical IT services as quickly as possible after a disaster. Obviously this can encompass much more than just data recovery. A comprehensive DR plan might include alternate sites, spare hardware, etc.

Backup

Backup, on the other hand, can include the ability to perform a rapid recovery – yes Disaster Recovery, but it can also provide you access to the past history of your backed up data. That is a big distinction between backup and disaster recovery. There are some really great disaster recovery products that provide a very quick recovery to a very recent copy of a server in the case of disaster, but were never designed to provide data even 2 weeks ago, much less 6 months ago or even years ago.

In addition to restoring the most recent file, backup allows access to older, past versions of files. Older versions of files allow to recover from data loss that occurred in the past, but is noticed in the present. A cryptolocker ransomware type infection is a good example in that the latest backups may be of infected files and a restore is required from before the infection. It’s also very easy to bring up a monthly report in Word and select “Save” instead of “Save As”, overwriting the original document. Without keeping copies of past versions, we could potentially lose valuable data.

Some organizations are mandated by law to keep copies of their older data as well. Think medical providers who need to keep past patient data for years.

Backup data can be current data used for DR, but it’s also the past versions of data and being able to reproduce data as it was back to a certain point in time can be of enormous value.

Business Continuity

Business Continuity is generally defined as the process by which an organization can continue essential business functions despite a disaster. A comprehensive business continuity plan is far more than just restoring servers and data, and often includes things that are not IT related at all.

The business operation needs of every organization can be different. Some business are highly dependent on phone service to take calls from customers for instance, while some businesses require specialized equipment that is not easily replaced, or replaced quickly. Who are the critical employees and what functions do they perform? Where will employees work if the office is unavailable? There are many, many questions to ask in order to create an effective business continuity plan, and data recovery is only one of many areas of concern.