Tape vs Cloud Backup: Data Recovery in the Era of Covid-19

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    The last year has shown the critical need for business continuity and disaster recovery plans — the COVID-19 pandemic has meant accessing data is even more difficult remotely, and the rate of cyberattacks has increased. How can businesses feel more prepared during this time?

    It’s all about having the right backup solution in place, so that data can be stored, accessed and restored easily and quickly. Those with a documented plan have already envisioned what to do. For many, they accessed an alternative site with a backup of digital assets. Because they were prepared, these organisations were able to pivot quickly and continue to operate, even under unique circumstances. Part of those continuity plans included a procedure for backing up systems to ensure availability if the primary location became inaccessible.

    Systems can be backed up to tape or the cloud. They can be backed up daily or weekly. There can be partial or full backups. So what should a business consider when deciding on a backup and archive plan?

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    What is tape backup?

    Backing up computer systems to tape is a long-standing backup method. First used in the 1960s, it transfers volumes of data to magnetic tape in much the same manner as a VHS tape is produced.

    In 2010, the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) was introduced. This open standard led to the Linear Tape-Open standard for tape production. LTFS separated metadata about an object from the object, making it easier for information to be retrieved. LTO has improved the quality and storage capacity of tapes. Both standards are voluntary and open-source — however, most tape storage manufacturers adhere to the standards.

    Why use tape backup?

    Despite the emergence of newer technologies, tape backup is still used in government and finance, where regulations require off-site storage with long shelf lives. Tapes are reliable, secure and cost-effective:

    • Reliable. Tape backups have a long shelf life. On average, they can last up to thirty years. That’s longer than most companies need, however, some industries and agencies are required to maintain records in excess of ten years. With the adoption of the LTO standard in the 2010s, tape technology has improved significantly, making it more reliable.
    • Secure. The only way to ensure that a computer system is secure from cyberattack is to keep it offline. If data isn’t connected to the internet, it can’t be hacked. Depending on security requirements, some organisations backup to tape and then store them in an offsite location or vault. Others may store the tapes locally. Physically storing the data means the only way it can be stolen is if someone steals the physical tape.
    • Cost-effective. Depending on the amount of data that needs to be stored, tape backup may be a cost-effective solution. Purchasing the tape drive and tapes is more expensive than backing up to the cloud. However, as the demand for more storage space increases, so does the cost of the storage. If storage services charge by bandwidth, large data transfers from the cloud can become costly. The only way to know which solution is the most cost-effective is to look at the data storage costs over time.

    Are there downsides to tape backup?

    Cost can be a prohibitive factor, but it’s dependent on the amount of data you have to back up. Purchasing tape drives and tape for 20 terabytes of data will be more costly than paying for long-term cloud storage. There is also the cost of maintaining the proper storage environment. Storing tapes outside climate-controlled conditions can result in deterioration, just as with video tapes. Labour costs are also a consideration as IT staff must be physically present to initiate and complete a tape backup.

    Then there’s the challenge of physically moving tapes when logistics companies experience travel delays as a result of global health restrictions. During the Covid-19 lockdown, many of our clients found that they were physically unable to access their office and data centres so data restores via their tape systems were not possible. In some cases this caused significant financial loss.

    Backing up to tape can be a slow process. Many organisations perform tape backups overnight because they can take hours to complete. Speed is also a concern when it comes to retrieving information. Searching tapes for specific information is not as straightforward as searching a Windows-based file system. And if you happen to lose data, it can be even trickier to restore that data during the era of COVID-19 — so it’s critical you have the right business continuity plan for the pandemic in place.

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    What is cloud backup?

    Online backup or remote backup are other names for cloud backup. They are backup strategies that send a copy of files, databases, and other digital assets to another location in case the primary site experiences a failure. The secondary location is in the cloud and is often hosted by a third-party provider. If backing up directly to the cloud, backup software will be required. When working with a third-party provider, the software is typically provided.

    Why use cloud backup?

    Protecting data is a primary concern for any organisation, but it can become a burden to an IT department. Cloud storage can help, as it’s:

    • Less work for IT. Cloud backup offers faster and more convenient ways to store data. The process can be automated so that IT staff only has to monitor the process rather than initiating and completing it.
    • Convenient. Cloud backups are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. IT staff does not have to be physically present at a location to manage the backup or restoration process. This also makes it easy to restore data, with the right cloud disaster recovery software.
    • Able to provide snapshots. The cloud is perfect for snapshots of a system. These perpetual backups provide a look at the system at specific times to ensure against data loss and without adding to the IT workload.
    • Safer. With work safety concerns being a priority, companies do not have to worry about lockdown orders or other travel restrictions.

    Cost can be another plus for cloud backup. As indicated previously, its cost-effectiveness depends on the amount of data and the storage duration. Veeam solutions are market leaders in cloud backup. Try our Veeam Cloud Connect pricing calculator for a bespoke estimate on what secure backup could cost you.

    What are the downsides to cloud backup?

    The initial move from on-premise to cloud backups can be time-consuming and labour-intensive. Organisations with limited resources may need to discuss third-party support to move the initial system to the cloud. Once the initial move to the cloud is complete, the data backup becomes automatic.

    Cost is both a plus and a minus. It just depends on the amount of data, the frequency of backups, and transmission speeds. When looking at a cloud storage solution, it is essential to look at all cost items before making a decision.

    Which backup solution is best?

    While the features and benefits of these two backup solutions vary, ultimately, it comes down to what you need for your business. Consult a data storage specialist — like us here at Nexstor — for help on creating the perfect backup solution for your business.

    Many companies consider a hybrid solution. Tape backups can be used for data that must be secured in an offsite location or for files that are less frequently accessed. Keeping tape backups fulfils the requirement for long-term and secure data storage that many industries and countries require.

    However, the majority of information can be stored in the cloud, where staff can have easier access to the data. It still reduces the burden on IT resources and provides snapshots against data loss. It also provides flexibility in terms of the amount of storage that is in the cloud versus on tape. Making cloud storage part of a company’s backup options ensures access regardless of the impact of external factors.

    Being prepared is crucial if businesses want to survive the unexpected. Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are designed to minimise the impact. Part of that preparedness is deciding on the right backup solution for your organisation. Contact us if you’re interested in talking to someone who understands data storage to find the right backup plan for you.

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    Troy Platts

    Troy has spent over 20 years helping organisations solve their data, storage and compute conundrums. He is a regular speaker at vendor events and spends any free time he has keeping abreast of advances in data platform technologies. He also makes a mean curry.

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