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The Trouble with Tape

What's the Best Backup Solution for You?

Tape backups are expensive, require a lot of manual intervention, leave gaps in protection and have high failure rates. If you can’t afford to lose time and data, software-based replication and restoration may be a better solution.

Is tape right for you?

Tape backup used to be the only option for backing up servers. However, tape backup has inherent problems that can go quickly from inconvenient to disastrous. Consider some of the issues and how they would affect your business in a disaster or system outage:

  • Tape backup hardware and software are expensive, especially if you have multiple offices.
  • Making backups every day requires manual intervention - it’s easy to forget or skip it.
  • Tape backup always involves downtime - you can’t backup a system that is in use.
  • Tapes are easily damaged, lost or destroyed.
  • At best, you’ll be recovering from yesterday’s data.
  • 40% of restoration attempts from tape fail - can you afford to permanently lose your data?
  • Tape restoration, when it works, involves hours or days of complete downtime.

The costs of tape backup

  • Acquisition and ongoing maintenance of hardware.
  • Acquisition of backup software and ongoing maintenance/support.
  • Acquisition and replacement of tape media.
  • Offsite storage and transportation costs.
  • Operation costs for performing backup and recovery.
  • Cost of downtime incurred during recovery.
  • Cost of data loss due to recovering to previous night’s data.

What will downtime cost you?

When considering a backup and recovery strategy, it’s helpful to determine your cost of downtime. (Large businesses average $42,000 per hour, small businesses average $18,000.) Here’s a simple way to estimate the average cost per hour of downtime: Cost per Occurrence = (To + Td) x (Hr + Lr).

In this equation, To is the length of an outage, Td represents how long it’s been since the last backup, Hr is the hourly rate of personnel (calculate by monthly expense per department divided by the number of work hours), and Lr is the lost revenue per hour, which applies if the department generates profit. A good rule is to look at profitability over three months and divide by the number of work hours.

How much can you afford to lose?

It is also helpful to determine how much time and data you can afford to lose, called RPO and RTO.

Recovery Point Objective

The first, the Recovery Point Objective (RPO), is the threshold of how much data you can afford to lose since the last backup. Defining your company’s RPO typically begins with examining how frequently backup takes place. Since backup can be an intrusive to systems, it is not typically performed more frequently than several hours apart. This means that your backup RPO is probably measured in hours of data loss.

Recovery Time Objective

The second, the Recovery Time Objective (RTO), is the threshold for how quickly you need to have an application’s information restored. For example, maybe 4 hours, 8 hours, or the next business day is tolerable for e-mail systems. Keep in mind the amount of time it takes to provision servers, storage, networking resources and virtual machine configurations. Using these two primary measures will help you understand your cost of downtime, help define a budget for an IT system continuity plan and determine the technology that meets your needs within your budget.

An affordable alternative

Once you’ve estimated your cost of downtime and how much data and time you can afford to lose, you can make an informed decision about which backup strategy is right for you. If tape backup is too expensive or leaves too much risk in your plan, a software-based solution is a better choice.

Good software-based replication and recovery solutions are affordable and easy to maintain. A comprehensive solution continuously copies changes to critical data and applications to a target server, eliminating downtime and data loss. In an outage, you can choose to manually or automatically failover to your target server - where a complete and up-to-the minute copy of your data and applications is always waiting. When it’s time to restore, the backup server will transfer everything back to the original or new production server - over standard networks, and without regard to hardware differences.

A comprehensive software package leaves no protection gaps, needs no reminders or intervention, and doesn’t require a rocket scientist for installation and set up. Besides being more comprehensive and reliable than tape, software-based backup and recovery is more affordable. Consider this:

Cost benefits of software-based backup and recovery:

  • Reduces tape backup hardware costs by consolidating backups.
  • Reduces tape media costs by reducing backup frequency.
  • Reduces operational costs of performing tape backup.
  • Reduces the cost of downtime from hours or days to minutes or hours.
  • Reduces the cost of data loss to near zero.
  • Reduces fines and penalties for regulated organizations by providing a complete up-to-the-minute record of data and transactions.
  • Reduces your organizations carbon footprint by allowing you to consolidate sites and servers.

With many excellent solutions on the market, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to make the switch from tape backup to software-based backup. Find a comprehensive solution from a company with a good reputation for customer support and your new backup and recovery plan will pay for itself in a few weeks.


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Robin Howard is a Technology Anthropologist & Writer for Vision Solutions.

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