Tape backups - yes / no? What's my options?
August 21, 2013 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Are tapes still the best bet for backups or are they considered antiquated now? I want to replace our organization's existing tape backup system.

Smallish - medium sized organization, roughly 250 employees. 6 servers (1 RHEL, 5 W2K8) + some assorted boxes that need to be backed up (not desktops).

Right now, for the main file servers, I do disk to disk copies to another server, but these are static daily copies (robocopy!). For archived copies I back up to tape (LTO3) on a Dell Powervault 124T with 2 magazines (16 slots total).

The backup software I use is EMC Retrospect, which I like and don't have problems with (for the most part).

For whatever reason(s) this is the 3rd replacement 124T unit I've had from Dell. It fails regularly with hardware errors and it's a bitch having to keep monitoring it. I want to replace it.

Are tapes still the best option for backups like this? I understand about disk-to-disk but how do you carry these offsite? We do not have the ability to do backups to remote locations (offices) with this software as our network connections wouldn't handle it.


P.S. We have about 3 TB of static data that needs preserved and then roughly 2-5& of that changes regularly.
posted by dukes909 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: that should read "2 - 5 % changes regularly".
posted by dukes909 at 8:04 AM on August 21, 2013

The problem with tape is it costs so damn much, and the hardware is often unreliable.

Otherwise, you're system is solid -- if, and only if, you are testing restores. The way I put it is this. I don't do backups. I do restores. Backups are a step, not the goal.

You can use disks as tapes, you just move them offsite. Obviously easier with externals, but you can use cage-mounts if you label them carefully. What you'd probably want is a Disk-Disk-Disk solution, where you back up to a fast set of local disks, then copy that to a slower external for moving offsite.

The other way, as you noted, is a network connection, but if you don't have the bandwidth, you're stuck.
posted by eriko at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Most of my customers (most of whom are not technology companies but do have in-house servers and IT staff) back up internally to SAN and then SAN to cloud via a service. Some of the companies who used to (still do, actually) offsite tape storage, like Iron Mountain, now offer cloud vaulting options including cloud-to-tape.

I do still have a few customers who have and run tape backup, but I don't think any of them plan to every buy another tape backup system.

(I also have customers, probably more than I want to know, who do not offsite in any way. I keep wanting to tell them about this thing called fire, and this other thing called water, but I'm a little worried that the shock might kill them.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I keep wanting to tell them about this thing called fire, and this other thing called water, but I'm a little worried that the shock might kill them

A lot of smaller companies won't survive a big fire/flood event anyway, but you're right.

The problem with disk to cloud is bandwidth. If you have it, it works -- either to a second site or to a service. If you don't, you don't, and it won't work.

However, there's an interesting comparison to be done in cost of tapes and tape drives vs. cost of remote disk/backup service and a faster internet connection. It may be that you can get that bandwidth if you're not dumping the money into tapes.
posted by eriko at 8:36 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tape is still a viable backup media but it is only as good as the testing and media rotation schedules that go into it. There are a lot of companies sitting on tape data that from years ago that they probably couldn't get anything off of if they ever had to. In that case, the may as well not even keep it as all. Cloud storage is growing in popularity but as others have stated there are potentially bandwidth issues, as well as the risk of slowing down the recovery time greatly (which is usually the most important metric though a lot of people overlook this).

Anyway, ideally what you would do is backup (probably to disk) as your primary backup and then use the tape or the cloud as your off-site.
posted by synecdoche at 11:07 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your process sounds good, but the missing part here seems to be how long you need to retain data. If you just need to make sure that you can resume operations with last week's tape rotation then I think you are better served with backing up to hard drives that get rotated around. Hard drives are faster and there are decent ways of ensuring the integrity of the data. If you need to pull archives from some point in the past then tape is about the best thing going right now.

I read recently that 40% of backup tapes fail. I don't have much context for this statement, but I dread having to restore from tape because I've experienced enough times that tapes are corrupted. If I didn't have to use them for archival I would find any other means available.

Cloud options seem really attractive but restoration is painfully slow. A new direction that I've been exploring recently are services like Axcient and DattoBackup that involve an on-site server that acts as a warm standby server and it synchronizes to a cloud service. For single server failures you have pretty quick failover and for really bad situations you can resume operations with a hosted image of your apps and data. I think for a ~120 person company you can quickly come up with an ROI for this kind of service.
posted by dgran at 11:53 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look into CrashPlan PROe, which has the option of having one of their servers on-site, and pushing updates to their cloud. (They have cheaper options, too.)

The initial backup will be fast, because it's to local disks in your rack. The CP client will look for duplicate files and encrypt/compress the data before it's uploaded, so it may go out more quickly than you think, if you deal in highly compressible data (not photos or video).

2-3 TB of data is not small, but it's completely possible. There are a lot of hours between 5pm and 9am when your internet line may be nearly idle.

For quick restores though, it's hard to beat a disk to disk clone. When the primary disk fries, swap in the most recent clone and get back to work. I recommend cloning essential systems nightly.

(Feel free to PM me, this is my wheelhouse.)
posted by Wild_Eep at 12:49 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

IF it was asmaller amount of data I would say try rdx. They only go up to 2tb cartridges. they have an 8 cartridge drive but its $2k . RDX cartridges are basically laptop hdds in a shock resistant case. They are as fast as hdds because they are hdds. It is more expensive then tapes though but the drive is much more reliable because its just sata conenctors in a case that allows the hdd cartridge to be slid out.

It could be something you look into. we use them but we only backup the data we really need to be moveable offsite. everything else gets backed up to external hdd connected to esata.
posted by majortom1981 at 2:57 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

A proper solution specific to your organization really depends on a few factors:

1: RTO (Recovery Time Objective) - How long can you afford to be 'down' after a failure before people are able to work again?
2: RPO (Recovery Point Objective) - How much business can you afford to lose in the event of a failure? If the system crashes at 3pm on a Friday, do you require the ability to restore to the exact failure point? Or can you go back to Thursday night's backup, losing any business conducted on Friday?
3) What is your budget?

The combination of those answers will determine whether you need to keep up with the tapes, or can go with a cloud or internal NAS/mirror solution, whether you need a hot site, etc.

Lacking any of that info, based on what you provided I would suggest a VTL backup, pushing to physical tape (from the VTL) for offsite storage if required. Perform a full backup of all 3 TB once per month (or as often as required) and do incrementals the rest of the time.
posted by SquidLips at 3:01 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

All the advice in here is good. As a company that has about 150TB of data that we need to keep backed up, we make extensive use of disk-based backups. We replicate over an internet connection to remote sites so that we have data stored in each location. We're a no-tape environment because the media is expensive, our environment isn't really compatible with it, and RAID replication is so nice.

For my home lab, where I currently have about the amount of data that your business has (3TB), I back up to disk locally (a RAID1 of 4TB disks in a SAS enclosure) and I use an rsync-based backup program that I hacked together out of bits and pieces of bourne shell so that I'm not backing up a lot of files that haven't changed. I then back up the backups to Amazon Glacier, but I haven't had to restore from that yet except in tests.
posted by SpecialK at 3:28 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

4 TB hard disks are cheap and many times faster than tape.
posted by KRS at 7:20 AM on August 22, 2013

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