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Back up your data - Tape Drives

Tape Drives

Had this article been written a decade ago, magnetic tape would have featured far more prominently. A tape drive is a data storage device that reads and writes data stored on a magnetic tape. It is typically used for off-line, archival data storage. Magnetic tape has been used for data storage for over 50 years. Tape has historically offered enough advantages in cost over disk storage to make it a viable product, particularly for backup, as the tapes are portable and inexpensive. However, the use of tape drives has been reducing partly because of other formats, and the slow access speed. Whilst access times may be poor, the rate of continuously writing or reading data can nevertheless be very quick.

Many companies continue to rely on tape to backup their data. This is because costs are low bearing in mind the storage capacity and the reliability of magnetic tape. In some situations they can be more convenient than a hard disk and hold much more storage than optical discs.

Tape backup systems exist targeted at home users needing to backup their personal data, and for backing up large amounts of storage for archiving and disaster recovery purposes in a large enterprise. Pictured above is the HP StorageWorks LTO-4 Ultrium 1840, an example of a high end tape drive. The drive supports SuSE Linux, Red Hat Linux and other distros. It features storage of up to 1.6TB per cartridge, 256-bit encryption, and real transfer rates of approximately 100 MB/sec. Therefore, whilst tape drives are perceived to be incredibly slow, good hardware can ensure that backups are completed without a reduction in performance. However, this tape drive is very expensive, but there are much cheaper tape drives that still offer good performance.

Linux has a great selection of backup software for tape drives. For console fans, mt and tar provide an easy and reliable way to perform backups. Users seeking more comprehensive functionality can look to open source software such as BackupPC and AMANDA, or the proprietary Arkeia Network Backup suite. The latter supports over 150 different platforms, and virtually every tape drive and tape library, as well as cloud storage options. Arkeia has also recently released a no charge version which is available for Ubuntu.

Another factor to bear in mind is that tape media has good archival stability.

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Jump ahead:

1. Introduction - Optical Discs
2. External Hard Disks
3. Network Storage
4. Online Backup Services
5. Tape Drives (current page)
6. Solid State Storage (next page)

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Last Updated Sunday, December 13 2009 @ 10:07 AM EST

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