Century IT blog

Backup Tape Life Expectancy

June 25th, 2012

How Long Can You Expect a Backup Tape to Last?


Everything wears out eventually, be it your computer or your bicycle, they all come to a point in time where they deteriorate, wear and break.


Backup tapes are no exclusion from this unfortunate truth.


If you have a routine to cycle the same five backup tapes around (Monday-Friday) then it is very likely of course, that all of these tapes will go wrong within a reasonably short period of time from each other if they are all stored and handled the same. To combat this, it is always worth having some spare tapes to hand should one or multiple tapes decide to stop working.


Alternatively, you can cycle tapes round so that you have two tapes for each day of the week marked up as one and two respectively (E.g. Monday -1, Tuesday – 1, Monday – 2, Tuesday – 2 etc.) This way each tape only gets used once a fortnight.


There are many factors contributing to the life expectancy of a backup tape though.


In optimum conditions, and if the tapes are extremely well looked after and used infrequently, then the life expectancy of an Ultrium tape can be up to 30 years. However, it is unlikely that a tape shall be kept in these perfect conditions and not receive damage over the course of ten or more years.


This figure of 30 years however, is how long that the tape should last and hold its data successfully for not necessarily how long it will last under constant use.


With the tape under normal use in a weekly or bi-weekly rotation, an Ultrium tape can be expected to last for around 260 full successful backups. It is however strongly advised that the tapes are changed before the breaking point so as not to end up in a situation where a backup will fail due to a lack of tapes to perform the backup on.


There are many factors contributing to the life expectancy of a backup tape


A few of the things that would contribute to lowering the life expectancy of the tape would be:

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  • Dust and dirt in the area that they are used and stored


  • Humidity of the environment that they are used and stored in


  • Whether the tape runs back and forth during backup


  • How often the tape is used


One of the major contributions to the shortening of the life of a tape is a process commonly known as “Shoe shining.” This process is where the tape drive is faster than the server itself, and the tape drive has to stop, reposition itself and start up again to continue writing many times so that it can allow for the slow speed of the server.


This in turn causes excessive wear to the tape from all of the unnecessary movement across the tape, rapidly reducing the life of it. Newer drives and tapes can detect when this is happening and attempt to stop or reduce it, though this in turn does mean that the full capability of the tape drive is not being used.



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