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Tape backup: Often old and confused, but quite cheap

Survey results show those with tape are likely to have old tapes, multiple formats, including defunct ones, and no way of knowing what is on them. But tape is still quite cheap for most

Most organisations have two or three backup products deployed, while many have tapes up to 20 years old – and they don’t know the contents. Meanwhile, tape storage hardware, maintenance and staff costs are the three highest expenses for those that maintain a tape architecture.

Those are the findings of a survey of more than 800 IT professionals about their use of tape backup carried out by data recovery specialist Kroll Ontrack in the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, the US, Canada and Australia.

Most of those questioned (81%) have fewer than 100 tapes retained. The largest proportion (40%) are less than five years old but 48% are up to 10 years old and 11% are more than 20 years old.

Nearly half of respondents (49%) have two or three backup products deployed, while 27% have only one.

A sizeable minority (37%) have backup tape formats for which there is no longer any function.

The average number of times a month that those questioned are asked to restore from tape is 26.5, and the most common reason is to access needed but non-active data (74%). Next came internal investigations (16%), while 7% cited evidence in lawsuits and 3% mergers and acquisitions.

Respondents from the US, the UK, Canada and Australia reported a significantly higher average number of restore requests (25 to 42 per month) compared with those in Germany, France, Poland and Italy (all single figures), which, according to the survey sponsors, is possibly due to their common law heritage which requires they surrender relevant data in legal disputes and can result in increased restores from legacy tapes.

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Most (73%) said they could quickly identify archive data, but a majority (55%) said they do not know the contents of tapes down to file level.

When asked what prevents them understanding what data they have, the largest proportion (52%) said it is too difficult or time-consuming to read the tapes, and 38% said they do not have the infrastructure to do so. Nearly one-third (31%) said it is too expensive to retain the infrastructure needed and 10% said their tapes are damaged.

Remarkably, 49% do not know what it costs to maintain their tape infrastructure, but of those that do, the largest proportion (39%) said up to $10,000. The largest of those costs is storage hardware, followed by maintenance and then staff.

Only 6% said their tape infrastructure costs up to $50,000 a year, and 5% said it costs up to $100,000. Only two respondents said their tap infrastructure costs more than $1m a year.

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