Backups To Disk: Four Tape Alternatives Put To The Test

Tape Drive... Or Not?

Backing up important data is to in many ways as important as its initial creation - a fact no company would deny. In this article, we consider only backups for demanding single users and small to mid-sized enterprises. Before we proceed, we will first of course weigh in on the pros and cons of tapes against hard-drive solutions.

Tape solutions have a long tradition and solid reputation; magnetic tapes have been used to store data for eons. The backup and restore sequence is clear, practically everything is standardized, the software is advanced and widely used. The drive is installed in a system or in a portable rack and connected via SCSI. Only the tapes are exchanged, preferably daily. As the cartridges are generally small and compact, they can be easily locked away or transported to another location.

Several streamer and robotic systems can be used for larger capacity requirements - capacities now reach into the petaBytes (millions of gigabytes). Tapes are generally not as sensitive to knocks as hard drives. In the event of catastrophe, tape solutions often benefit from the fact they are almost invariably backward compatible - in case the entire building, including somewhat outdated hardware should come to a smoldering end.

But there's a price to be paid for such security, of course. For the total price of a tape drive and a realistic number of tapes, you could buy ten or even more up-to-date hard drives with plenty of capacity - enough at any rate to set up a reasonable backup system. Access is still a thorny issue with tape solutions, especially if data is required quickly. Then again, hard drives should generally be avoided where exorbitant data quantities are involved, as managing the correspondingly larger and more numerous drive arrays or backup systems will be that much harder.

In the last few months more and more hard-drive-based backup solutions have sprouted up, largely a factor of the cheap prices and large capacities mentioned earlier. At this point we neither want to criticize this development nor praise it in glowing terms. What is clear is that the products presented below for home use or for small and mid-sized businesses are certainly an option for short- and medium-term data backups. Solutions for long-term archiving still must be sought elsewhere.