What’s better for Backup: Disk or Tape?


One of the oldest debates in technology has revolved around the battle for disk or tape supremacy in the backup space.

Of course, disk has been the default method for primary computer storage for decades. But this debate is still an important factor when it comes to deciding on what backup methodology to use for data protection and disaster recovery. (And some very interesting things start to happen when you throw cloud computing into the mix)

At a very high level, it all comes down to your particular needs.

At first glance, tape would seem to be a completely obsolete storage technology. However, tape is still widely used as the primary method for backup and archiving processes at many — if not most — Fortune 500 companies today.

Although tape is slow and clumsy, it does have certain key advantages. Tape is an incredibly simple storage media. And this simplicity reduces the chance of breakage over time. This makes it excellent for long-term backup and archival storage.

Backup tapes also have the ability for “Write Once, Read Many” (WORM) locking, which helps to prevent data tampering for sensitive information which must be preserved for legal or compliance reasons. This makes tape an ideal medium for data archiving.

However, hard drives are much faster than tape, and more suitable to situations where fast disaster recovery is necessary. The one drawback with hard drives is that they are mechanically complex, and this increases the chance of breakage over time. (Compare this to a tape device, where the reading mechanism is kept completely separate from the primary storage medium for simplicity.)

Because of these trade-offs between speed and long-term reliability, many companies will use tape for off-site long-term data storage, and then they will use hard drives for local backups or at secondary failover facilities where fast recovery is required.

But within recent years, this disk vs. tape debate has been significantly shaken up by new innovations in the delivery of cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solutions. When you implement the cloud as part of your disaster recovery and backup process, you’ll uncover many significant advantages which make the debate between tape and disk less relevant.

And unlike disk-based or tape-based backup technologies, cloud solutions don’t require significant hardware investments.

Watch this video for more information on how the cloud can help in crafting an efficient and effective backup and disaster recovery process, and to see how the cloud fits into the disk vs. tape debate.

(EDIT: Please note that, due to recent and upcoming innovations in storage technology, I think it would be appropriate to consider next-generation optical media storage technologies to be grouped into the “tape” category of this debate. Likewise, new SSD storage advances could also be considered to fall under the “disk” category.)

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