DLT, SuperDLT, LTO, 3480, 3490e, 3590, 3570, TK50, 4mm-DDS, 8mm, AIT, QIC, and 9-track, these are a few of my favorite things. Not exactly how the old song goes, but rest assured that what you have on your old data tapes – regardless of the format – has more staying power and value than your old audio cassettes.

Granted, data backup is moving away from tape – or already has, depending on your views. But IT decision makers for small- and midsize businesses (SMB) should not overlook the possibilities and opportunities that tape still provides. Large businesses may be able to afford a complete overhaul of their backup and storage systems, but on top of being costly, complete replacement is seldom necessary for SMBs.

Even if the technology or format currently in use is not the most up-to-date, tape provides a great opportunity for SMBs to be smart and thrifty at the same time.

How old is too old?

It may sound tricky, and you may raise an eyebrow to the response, but there is no format of data tape that is too old to keep around. Yes, it is slow, but for backup/restoration functionality, you simply don't need fast. Even the most dated technology can still work well for archival data backup, and the reality is that upgrades are something that SMBs should carefully consider from every angle, especially at a time when chequebooks are tight.

Maybe you are simply moving from one format of tape to another and would prefer something uniform across to your data storage, but even tape-to-tape transfer comes at a cost — it is both tedious and time consuming. Unless there is a company mandate to convert everything to one format or to get rid of all the old tape drives, it is worth hanging onto your old DLT, SuperDLT, 8mm, or whatever you have, to use for emergency situations rather than going for a full upgrade and/or data transfer.

Another factor to consider is the trade-in value of the equipment you have. Your old data tape gear is probably worth only pennies on the dollar against your original investment, and to trade it in would be to just give it away. Purchasing older equipment is going to be a similar story, only instead of losing on a prior investment you can buy data tape equipment for a song, providing an extremely cost effective platform for archival data backup.

What is worthy of tape?

To decide what information can be stored on a slower format such as tape and what needs to be on the latest, fastest backup/restoration option available, first answer these basic disaster recovery (DR) questions:

  1. Which elements of your data are absolutely essential to your daily operations?
  2. How much historical data on those elements do you need available for daily operations, and how much storage capacity does it require?
  3. How long can your business operate successfully without any access to that essential data?
  4. Beyond the window you define with question three, what would the cost (or loss) be to your business if it had to operate without that essential data for a day? For a week or longer?

Your answers to questions one and two determine what data you should store on equipment capable of high-speed data restoration, while questions three and four will tell you the value of the data and the rapid-restoration system in your case. Conversely, any data that falls outside your answers to these questions can and should be stored on the most economical and reliable technology available to you. Data tape – even the older systems still available – is a great candidate for any "non-essential" data.

For example, if your company can afford to be down eight hours, you need a DR backup system that can restore your network and essential data within eight hours. For most SMBs in practice, this usually breaks down to a 36 to 48 hour window of essential data that should be kept on a top-of-the-line backup format. All other data is safe to store on tape.

There is no universal solution that applies to every business, and when it comes to storage, organisations need to look within for the answer to what solution or format is most applicable to their case. Yet, if you are a typical or even near-typical SMB, we are willing to say that tape still has a valid place in your data centre.