Storage past meets storage future…

Tapes, tapes tapes, lots of tapes...

While talking to a friend we were mentioning how the lifespan of tapes really sucks, how you could have some tapes that easily surpassed their lifespan of seven years, while some couldn’t last seven weeks. At some point in the business we’ve all seen it, some poor guy runs the local server backup to tape every night, they have a disaster, they call everyone they know for the tape backup program & OS as they’ve never tried to do a recovery before, and then you find out that the backups are all bogus because they forgot to format the tape, or some other nonsense and all the tapes are blank… They’ve never actually read the output of the backup program to know that they’ve backed up nothing.

At least we were able to send out the disks for repair and got back the vast majority of the data, but having the false assumption that they had good backups is the worst.

In the picture the idea is that the single DAT tape can hold the capacity of all the other tapes, but tapes are not only picky creatures, they can easily break giving you gaps in your data…

IMHO the only ‘workable’ backup is to hard disk, and those should be mirrored… Don’t use USB or ‘consumer’ grade stuff, those disks wont last five years let alone 30… And keep getting new disks and copying stuff up.  Sigh.

As easy as it is to watch everyone get locked out of new ‘cloud’ based software, it is just as easy  to get locked out of old stuff.  Make ISO images of your CD’s just in case.  Keep text files of your license information, email it to yourself!  It is far too easy to get locked out.  And as vendors move on, all they’ll sell you is new stuff that very well won’t work with your old data.


9 thoughts on “Storage past meets storage future…

  1. LOL, “email it to yourself!”, I thought I was the only one with a million “me”s in Gmail and tons of Gmail/work mail duplication… I even POP3 my Gmail account(s), gzip it all and save it in multiple places..

    As for backups, an ‘Oracle expert’ once told me something like : Your backups are only as good as your recovery.
    Very true. People automate daily backups but are too lazy to schedule a weekly manual full recovery.

    • Yeah doing recovery is a ‘lot of work’ esp when it involves specialized hardware… And of course if the hardware isn’t being made anymore.. Oh the horror!

      Speaking of Gmail.. 72% full Using 5596 MB of your 7674 MB.. Which considering I’ve been using it since September of 2004 … Isn’t that much… 15,493 emails … I need to back this crap up. lol

      • Tell me about it..
        Oracle 7.3.4, from 1996 (on Sol7) is definitely abandonware (even Oracle doesn’t keep archives of it), and still no-one here had the sense to buy another SPARC box and try out those precious backups. I was involved a couple of years back and requested a box and installed Sol7 and Oracle DB 7.3.4, loads of fun times 🙂 (but yeah, I too am still a bit lazy on the routine recovery, I admit it)

  2. In my experience, the cheapest green hard drives break about as much as the business-grade SAS disks – the only difference being the level of support you get.

    I’ve got 2 backup strategies, depending on type of client: either to USB disks (usually 3 disks, with the rotation moving one of the disks to a remote location), or over the network to a storage server at a different location. In both cases we regularly test the backups, both by restoring single files, and by trying bare metal recovery.

    • I had bought a bunch of western digital external disks a few years back… 100GB (heh who on earth has 100GB worth of data??? LOL) And at the end of the year, they all had errors…..

      But like you were saying you need to have multiple strategies, a single anything is going to fail, it is inevitable.

      I know after all of this reflection I’m going to have to revisit my whole backup strategy…

      • I’m not sure about drives that old, but we never had any problems with 320GB external drives and larger (all WD). One client had 3 of them in rotation until last year, when we switched to backing up to a WD MyBook World the owner keeps at home.

        I did set up regular SMART self-tests on the drives, and the tests never showed any problems.

        We also have one 500GB WD at work, with which we’ve been far less than gentle – I’m actually surprised that the drive still works, since it fell off a desk several times, and I once managed to knock it off a computer to the table with considerable force while it was being written to (the only effect was that the machine reported write error and refused to do anything with the disk until I unplugged and replugged it).

  3. Well, that picture could _almost_ have been one with me in.. years back, before commercially available Internet, and with only slow (19200 bps) X.25 links, I criss-crossed the world with something like (usually) 9 or 10 CCTs (just like the guy to the right in the picture), just to update our customer’s systems with new software. Often had to ship by courier, and then it was the trouble of getting the tapes out of customs without having to bribe the ‘officers’ to actually get the tapes. Or wait at the customer’s site for days for the tapes to arrive.

    One day a colleague from another company arrived at the same site, and for _his_ system he had an Exabyte tape in his shirt pocket.. (he also used to do the CCT stunt until then). Talk about feeling envious! (A guy from my minicomputer vendor used to travel around with one or two (full-height) SCSI harddrives instead, which also took less space than all those CCTs.

    Exabyte tapes turned out to be not too reliable. But they’re infinitely reliable compared to those DAT tapes (like the one the short guy in the picture is holding). In my experience they are _almost_ at the level of the cassette backup I used on a Dragon 32 (CoCo compatible) back in the day: You had to make 3 copies in the hope that one would work, even if it was just for carrying data from home to work (copied the same day).

    I have recently recovered data from a lot of very old media (back to the early eighties). The funny thing is that there are only two backup media types which turned out to be reliable (still recoverable):

    1: CCT tapes. Only a very small percentage of tapes from back then turned out to be bad. The problems I at one point disappeared after a thorough head cleaning of my Anritsu CCT drive. After that they read without a hitch.

    2: 5 1/4″ floppies. I’ve recovered almost all of them (not only PC format). Mostly 1.2MB. Two floppies bad, so far, out of several dozens.

    I have not yet recovered any of my 8″ floppies, so I don’t know about them. But every single 3.5″ floppy, so far, have been bad. Every single one of them. They have all been stored together, the CCTs, 5 1/4″, and 3.5″ floppies, so the conditions have been similar. Exabyte tapes are not, by themselves, so bad, but the drives seem to be unable to survive. Old drives seem to just die, even when not in use.
    DLT tapes aren’t too bad. Some problems with drives though, but not as bad as for the Exabytes. DLT drives are newer though so I don’t know what will happen later.

    These days it seems better to just stuff data on every TB disk you can find, but then it’s a question of finding all the data when you want them, 20 years later.. 🙂


    • Nice recovery.

      “Old drives seem to just die, even when not in use.”
      This may seem counter-intuitive but old drives die _because_ they are not in use.
      They simply “stale out” – think cars that are just left sitting there for months.
      We have 2 16-20 year old DG AViiON machines (still running, how scary is that?), with an old DAT drive, a floppy drive and a CD drive.
      The DAT drive is still backing up data, daily and that drive is the only one that works.
      The floppy and CD drive are dead.

      And yeah, good backup plans also require indexing, cataloging etc, so you will have the slightest chance of finding that precious file/email from 15 years ago..

    • yeah it is scary about the 3 1/2″ disks… I recently bought a ‘NEW IN THE BOX” package of ten disks, from 1989 and all of them failed to format. They all had errors…..

      Yeah an entire 15+ years worth of media are going to wind up useless… Its a damned shame, everything cool for a long while in the pc world came on those disks, hard to imagine the 5 1/4″ ones wound up winning for longevity.

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