Online Backup vs Tape Backup

Tapes and backups have been synonymous for decades. Some folks think backup is tape. The confusion is understandable given the history, but tape backup has always been difficult to manage. In the past we had no alternatives so we just worked with it as best as we could.

However in recent times, with the huge improvements to broadband, high reliability and the dropping price of hard drives, online backup is not just a reality, it is the only way to go.

Our Online Backup service is just that - a service. Tape Backup is a bunch of products, including tape drives and software, that the owner must install, configure and maintain to provide a working backup solution.

This remainder of this page endeavours to show the practical differences between the two approaches over the lifetime of your backup data.

Timeline - Today

Starting today, with no backup solution in place, let's compare the different approaches...

Getting Started with Online Backup

To install our Online Backup service all you have to do is:

  • Decide which servers or PCs need the backup agent installed
  • Install the backup agent on each system
  • Install any plug-ins for complex loads (e.g. MS Exchange, databases, etc)
  • Configure the files and folders to be backed up on each system
  • Set the retention policies
  • Optionally do the first backups via portable media to save internet bandwidth

At the end of the installation you have all these aspects covered:

  • Fully automated backups - no more human errors
  • Secure fully encrypted backups
  • Off site copies - no couriers to arrange
  • Geographic redundancy
  • No software maintenance costs
  • No cap-ex outlay

Getting Started with Tape Backup

With a Tape Backup solution you need to work out a complex strategy before you even start:

  • Guess how many gigabytes need backing up now and in the next few years - this determines the tape technology you will buy
  • Determine the retention policy you require?
  • When will you use full, differential and incrementals backups?
  • Can you get away with a single tape drive or an expensive tape changer model?
  • What I/O card does your server need to support the tape drive? (e.g. SCSI, SAS, FC, etc)
  • How will you backup business data that is only stored on PCs? 
  • What hardware & software do you need to buy to execute this strategy?
  • Create the staff processes required for the day to day backups?
  • Organise an off site tape swapping or storage strategy
  • Organise a firesafe or similar to protect on-site tapes
  • Get cap-ex for the tape drive, tape set, firesafe and software ($10-20K+ is not uncommon)

Now you can start to install the solution

  • Buy and install the firesafe, I/O card, tape drive, software drivers and backup software suite
  • Configure your strategy into the software
  • Label all tapes (electronically and physically)
  • Start doing the nightly backups
  • Do daily tape rotation with another office or a storage company

At the end of the installation, you have a backup, but it could be a lot better:

  • Partially automated backups - tape swaps required
  • Encrypted backups? Only if the tape drive or software supports it
  • Off site copies - only with ongoing cost and hassle
  • Geographic redundancy - only if you are regularly couriering tapes off site
  • Ongoing backup software maintenance costs
  • Substantial cap-ex outlay

Of course, expect to have some of your systems administrator time taken up managing the day to day processes.

Online Backup looks like the way to go! Not convinced? Read on...

Timeline - 1 month down the track

Disaster strikes - you have a fire, flood or theft.

  • Do you still have a working tape drive to restore your backups from?
  • If not, where can you get one from in a hurry? How long will it take?
  • Do you need to retrieve tapes from off site? How long will it take?
  • If you need to rebuild your server do you have the licences for the backup software at hand?

With our Online Backup service, just let us know and we can prepare an portable hard drive with your last good backup, and get it sent to you within hours. Meanwhile you can reinstall our licence free backup software in anticipation of receiving the portable hard drive. The only thing you will need is your encryption key. Don't lose it!

Timeline - 1 year down the track

Some of your more frequently used tapes are likely to be nearing the end of their useful life. Hopefully your backup software can tell you which ones, so you can pay more money and replace them. If not, you are taking a chance with your ability to restore the backups.

Your backup volume requirements have no doubt increased. Typically 20-50% more data now needs backing up.

With our Online Backup this is not a problem. Simply increase your account size and it is done.

With Tape Backup things might not be so simple.

  • If you don't have the capacity on individual tapes, then tape changes are required to complete a single backup. Solutions include an expensive tape changer or unreliable and expensive human intervention
  • You might need to buy more tapes for your tape set
  • If money is tight, the bean-counters might force you to rethink your backup strategy - this will take time, be error prone and potentially expose the company to data loss

Timeline - 3 years down the track

If you are using Tape Backup, you are almost certainly really struggling to keep the burgeoning data volumes backed up properly:

  • You may have purchased a second tape drive to run two backups in parallel
  • You may be running an extra backup in the weekend to backup all the files you have been forced to skip during the week
  • Your staff costs to handle this mess after hours have increased

To make matters worse your tape drive is now out of warranty. It is time to restart the process again. Fortunately you can probably reuse most of your original software, but you will need a new tape drive and tape set. Things will settle down again for a while, unless cap-ex is tight and the bean-counters force you to manage with what you have!

Our Online Backup service clients are not having any problems. Their account sizes have been increased to accommodate the growing data volumes as required.

Timeline - 5 years down the track

By now you are onto your second tape drive. You are asked to restore some files from 2 years ago that were written using the old tape drive. If your new drive is based on the same technology you should be able to recover it, assuming your backup software is compatible.

However if you changed technologies, you will need your old tape drive to restore the files:

  • Do you still have the old tape drive or was it returned to the leasing company?
  • Is the I/O interface still the same? The SCSI standard morphed into SAS recently.
  • If not, can you even install a older I/O card into your new server? The PCI standard morphed into PCIe recently.
  • Are you using the same brand of backup software suite?
  • If not, can you even install the old backup software suite alongside the new?

Quite simply, these hassles do not happen to the users of our Online Backup service.

Summary

By now it should be clear that Tape Backup has a lot of problems. Many of these problems come about through the fixed size nature of tapes. They are either way to big, or way to small, for many users. Over time they become way to small for most users, causing untold grieve along the way.

Most of the remaining problems stem from the complex array of technologies (I/O, tape drive, backup software) that the tape drive owner must coordinate to get a working solution.

Making these technologies work for more than 3 years is fraught with difficulties. At the 5 year point, physically connecting an old tape drive to a new server may be difficult. Then the operating system needs drivers for the aging tape drive. Will your backup software work on your new operating system?

Beyond 7 years, there is unlikely to be vendor support for any of the components, therefore your backups become marooned on obsolete technology. Sadly they are completely useless.

None of these problems exist with our Online Backup service. Your backups are just "files on a disk". Such an approach transcends the technology obsolescence of servers and tape drives.

Online Backup is the only complete Backup Solution

Still not convinced? Please buy a Tape Backup solution and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. how you get on!