Preventing Tape Drive Failure

Contrary to popular belief, tape drives are generally robust and reliable. However, there are three common mistakes that people make that dramatically increase the probability of tape drive failure.

Firstly, it is not well known that tape drives is differ considerably in terms of how long they are designed to operate each day. Each tape drive range has a specified duty cycle, which is the maximum percentage of time that the drive should be operational. For example, a drive with a duty cycle of 50% should be operational for no more than 12 hours a day, while a drive with a duty cycle of 100% may run continuously.

Secondly, it is not well known that data must be supplied to tape drives at a sufficient rate in order to keep them streaming, or else the tape suffers from start-stop motion. It's easy to imagine the wear-and-tear this places on the tape, and how the integrity of the data stored on the tape can be severely degraded.

Thirdly, poor handling and storage commonly causes damage to tapes and the drive. It's not a good idea to drop tapes or stack them in a pyramid on the floor; the tapes should be handled and stored carefully. Tape drives should be kept as far away from contaminants as possible; for example, they shouldn't be placed directly on the carpet or kept in dusty environments.

Tapes should always be stored in a different location to the server, in order to prevent a disaster that damages the server from also damaging the backups on tape. At the very least, weekly tapes should be stored offsite. To reduce the chance of fire damage or theft, tapes should be stored in a fireproof safe.

By following these simple tips, your tape backups should run reliably, and you'll avoid the costly exercise of replacing your tape drive.

Linus Chang is a backup expert and the lead developer of BackupAssist -- tape backup software that is simple and affordable, and perfect for small and medium businesses. Protect your Windows servers, including SQL Server and Exchange Server, to tape, REV drive, hard drive, NAS and more, at a fraction of the cost of other backup software.

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