Considering Tape Backup Strategy

Does anyone still use tapes, you ask? What happened to all the available removable media (CDs, DVDs, Pendrives, Memory cards, External Disks, etc.)? Well, brace yourselves because tape is the only cost-effective way to retain data for an extended period of time. Plus, it gives you the best $/TB ratio on the market. At the time of writing this article, a single tape worth $ 240 can save up to 30 TB of data at a rate of 750 MB/sec.

What is Tape?

tape cartridge

In computing, a tape is a magnetic cartridge that can hold large amounts of data linearly. The picture on the side shows an HP non-labeled tape cartridge. Typically tapes come factory-labeled, customer-labeled or non-labeled (the label allows a tape library or human to identify the tape without inserting it into a drive). They also come in a WORM (write once read many) format which means the data, once written cannot be altered or, in an RW format which is similar to an RW CD.

Why do we need Tapes?

You want to take a full backup of your system once a month and you are required (sometimes by law) to keep it 7 years. Let assume that full backup of your system requires 10 TB of storage space. Taking 12 backups a year and keeping them for 7 years will require 840 TB (12 backups x 7 years x 10TB) of storage space. That is insane… and it is just for 10TB of data without factoring-in possible growth. Buying that amount of disk space will cost a lot of money; you also have to consider how much physical space such a system will occupy and also the electricity and cooling this will consume. Knowing that a single tape cartridge is the size of an adult hand, you will need about 28 (i.e. 840TB/30TB) of them to meet such a retention policy. Stay with me here, it’s going to get more fun.

What it takes:

Tape Drive

First of all, you require a tape drive. This is the system that will read or write to the tape. It is very similar to a CD drive. You may purchase it as a standalone device or as part of a Tape Library (Tape drive incorporated with tape shelves that perform automatic/pre-configured inventory, stocking, slotting and sorting).

Tape Cartridge

Then you need the cartridges. They are rated using the LTO (Linear Tape-open) standard which defines the specifications and features of your cartridge and tape drive. At the time of this article, we are using LTO 8 which is the most recent available cartridge on the market.

Note that, Tape drives are typically compatible two standards backward (an LTO 7 drive can read and write LTO 6, and also read LTO 5… you get the picture)

Backup software

As usual you need software to perform your backup and write to the tape. There are many solutions on the market. Veritas and Veeam quickly come to mind.

The Backup Method

So how often should you send data to tape? How should you go about it? The answer is fairly simple. I recommend using the GFS (Grandfather-Father-Son) technique – Nice way of calling it, right?

The GFS technique requires you to perform various levels of backup at different intervals and copy the ones for long retention to tape. Simply put, a “Grandfather” is your oldest backup, a “Father” is your intermittent one and a “Son” is the earliest one. You will typically like to take a full-backup the last day of the month (Grandfather) followed by a weekly Full backup (Father) and a daily incremental backup (Son).

This way you are sure you can go back to every single day of the month. You can add more layers to your GFS, meaning you can have a quarterly full backup and a yearly one. You can also have hourly incremental backups etc. The secret is to copy or clone the Grandfather and Father copies onto the tape and keep them in a safe place for your long-retention requirements.


Remember the 3-2-1 rule? Tape allows you to easily have a second media to save your data to, and because it does not need to be online (it is a copy), you can ship it to another location to meet the requirement of keeping offsite backups. That said, data stored on tape is very fragile and susceptible to magnetic forces; just the way your cassette or floppy disk or magnetic credit card is susceptible. So, make sure to keep them SAFE. One more thing; make sure your backup software allows you to encrypt data to tape so that a malicious person cannot have access to it without proper decryption keys.

Next Step

We provide free backup strategy discussions and budgeting. Our product managers will help prepare your backup strategy to meet your business needs. Our solutions portfolio includes tape drive and library options, and backup solutions. To discuss this or other data availability needs, call us on +233.54.431.5710 or write to

About Apotica

Apotica, headquartered in Accra, Ghana brings together the best information and communications technologies to help clients grow, compete and serve their customers better.