Jamie Davis, Education and Product Manager

Every single work day when my mom walks into her insurance branch of four employees, she is responsible for the same mundane, yet still highly critical task: she must take a backup tape out of the server and put a new tape in. She does this every day (when she remembers). Sometimes these tapes make it off site. Sometimes these tapes are locked in a drawer. Sometimes these tapes are put on top of the server. Each time she thinks: “There has to be a better way.”

For years, the theory has been that tape backups are the least expensive way to successfully protect your data. Two things have changed this way of thinking: one, the price of alternatives have decreased leading to a return on investment that can be quite comparable. Two, what do you consider successful? Often tapes take two or three tries with different tapes from different dates to successfully restore data. In a disaster, where your tapes reside could play a large role in whether you can restore or not. “It is estimated that 60% of companies that lose their data shut down within 6 months.” – John Jackson, Storage Manager. Several studies have been conducted on companies surviving loss of data and almost all come to the conclusion that companies who have data loss survive another 12 months less than 50% of the time. So is it time to take backups seriously? If so, are tapes a viable option? If not, what are the cost comparisons?

Tape Backups Success:

  • According to Microsoft, 42% of attempted recoveries from tape backups in the past year have failed. In addition, Ben Matheson, group product manager for Microsoft Data Protection Manager, said, “More than 50 percent of customers we’ve surveyed said their current backup solutions do not fill their needs.”
  • “Restoring from tape fails 50% of the time in distributed organizations and mid-sized companies.” – Baroudi Bloor (www.hurwitz.com)
  • Over 34% of companies do not test their backups and of those that tested, 77% found their tape backups failed to restore.” – Storage Magazine (storagemagazine.techtarget.com)
  • A survey by the Yankee Group and Sunbelt Software found that 40% of IT managers had been unable to recover data from a tape when they needed it.
  • According to The Gartner Group (www.gartner.com), 71% of all tape restores fail.
  • During our yearly tests of restoring data for our clients’ ASRs, Safe Systems has found that we often have to try several tapes before data is successfully restored.

The numbers vary due to different brands and types of backup devices, tape, and definitions of success/failure. If a restore takes three attempts from three different tapes, is it a success or not? Yes, you got your data, but at the same time, the original tape was a failure. No matter what your definition and no matter which survey you choose to quote, the best you can hope for from a single tape is success 66% of the time.

Assuming a five year depreciation on hardware, replacing fifteen tapes yearly, replacing cleaning tape yearly, and purchasing Symantec Backup Exec Software with annual renewal, you can expect the following costs for tape backup:

Item Price Per Quantity Total Year 1 Occurrence Total Year 5
LTO2 Tape Drive $1,950 2 $3,900 1 $3,900
LTO2 Tapes $32 15 $480 5 $2,400
LTO2 Cleaning Tape $62 1 $62 5 $310
Backup Exec $696 1 $696 1 $696
Exchange or SQL Agent $736 1 $736 1 $736
Backup Exec Renewal $136 1 $136 4 $544
Exchange or SQL Renewal $136 1 $136 4 $544
Totals $6,146 $9,130

Obviously, every institution is different. The number of servers you are backing up, the total amount of data, the type of storage, your methods of courier service, etc. all potentially affect this cost. For an inexpensive solution, your five year costs are nearing an average of $2,000 a year. If you depreciate over three years, the price per year is greater. If you are still using tapes, you might want to consider your alternatives. Many of our clients have been able to find some hidden costs not even included in my chart to make a pretty persuasive argument for moving toward a more trusted, secure, and successful solution like vaulting. Your Account Manager will be able to help you evaluate the costs of your tape backup and backup alternatives.

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