back to article Tape never died, it was just resting

Once upon a time, you could find tape drives everywhere. Even home offices used DAT, QIC and other small tape cartridge formats to do backups. In the days when having a hard disk as large as 500MB seriously impressed people, tape was pretty much the only economical way to make a copy of your data. So what went wrong for tape …


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  1. Sandpit


    "The reliability of tape has improved 700 per cent in the last 10 years or so”

    So 700 * 0 = ???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reliable?

      And my music cassettes from the 70's still play fine. But some of my compact discs from the 80's don't. 'nuff said?

    2. Caesarius

      Re: Reliable?

      What an obscure format to describe a change in reliability. Perhaps he meant to say that the failure rate of tapes has been reduced by a factor of eight? And then is the failure taken as " a whole tape cartridge becoming unusable" or "a bit (or byte) was read back wrongly", and is the latter before or after error correction?

  2. Julian C

    Long lasting

    I seem to recall some recent 'research' which revealed that the longest lasting media - allowing for electronic pulses/magnetic interference/degredation is good old plastic ticker-tape with holes in it!

    1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: Long lasting

      I thought it was paper made from cotton rags.

      Had a military historian complaining the other night (boardgames attract a certain crowd) that they had far more detailed records of the US civil war than of the US action in the 60s and 70s. Due to orders and logistics not being written down, but in now obscure data formats.

      There are punched card machines that are still weaving a good hundred years after they started, so maybe that's the standard :)

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Long lasting

      Maybe. 1000 feet (ca 300 metres for non-anglo readers) at 10 bytes per inch (per 2.54 cm). So about 120,000 bytes per reel. Hardly enough for a top-level index.

  3. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    nice, but where ...

    ... are these hybrid software solutions, which allow one to mix HDD backup and tape one? Preferably ones in SMB price range, too.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: nice, but where ...

      There was the George 3 operating system on the old ICL 1900 series machines. This would transfer files to magnetic tape leaving only the index entry behind. All the programmer was aware of was that old files could not be read or updated until the operator had fetched the tape and the OS had restored the file.

      One day I had a rant:

      A programmer waiting in vain

      For his files to come online again

      Was tearing his hair

      In a mood of despair

      And cursing in manner profane.

  4. Eugene Crosser

    Tape never died, it was just rewinding

    just sayn'

  5. RonWheeler

    Tape is okay

    If you don't mind waiting 48 hours to get your data back. With a relatively high percentage likelihood the tape is corrupt. And the endless cleaning tape hassle and manual labour of loading the things. And the repair bills of repeatedly servicing all those mechanical parts.

    If printers are computing's redheaded stepchild, tapes are the arthritic senile filing-clerk maiden aunt.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tape is okay

      You've not used tape for a very long time indeed, have you?

      I'm guessing circa 20 years.

      1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

        Re: Tape is okay

        I quit being an admin in 1999. Tape sucked.

        Now, when I ask for a backup restore, normally it works as deployed: that is, it still sucks, becuase it takes ages, buy now the fault is not the technology, but a bad backup policy.

  6. Jim 59


    Tape has not made a big come back after almost dying out. It was always there, always strong. Tape may, however, have become de-emphasised in the minds of certain commentators who were start-struck with the disk salesman. But for engineers, sysadmins and managers tape was always a no-brainer.

    Handle with Care etc. - What, we were just too ridiculous in the 90's to organize a proper backup regime, and the operators were were all butterfingers after attending too many raves ? Come on man.

    Customer confidence has improved dramatically, partly because the experience with LTO-5 was so good.

    You mean because the experience with LTO-5, LTO-4, LTO-3, LTO-2 and LTO-1 was so good ?

  7. Dick Emery

    I used to...

    I used to backup to VHS tape. Horrific!

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Last resort you can always take a tape cartridge apart and recover the tape

    Want to try that with a hard drive?

    I'd love a consumer priced tape backup format. I know I don't back as much as I should as often as I should.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Last resort you can always take a tape cartridge apart and recover the tape

      Back up to portable hard disks, using the same software as you would to backup to a tape drive, it's much cheaper and less hassle - Always keep one copy offsite. Tape is for the datacentre. You need multiple drives - at least two, with one offsite, for use at home - there's no point in being able to backup, if you destroy your only method of recovery in a fire/burglary.

    2. noominy.noom

      Re: Last resort you can always take a tape cartridge apart and recover the tape

      It's actually not that hard to pull a disk out of a drive. Mechanical hard drive failures do not usually destroy the disk. Head crashes can bing a bit of stuff off but most data is recoverable. Not at cheap as manually winding tape into a new cartridge but cheap enough even home users can cover it.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Last resort you can always take a tape cartridge apart and recover the tape

        But what if it's the controller that fails? That kind of failure can also bite SSDs.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Last resort you can always take a tape cartridge apart and recover the tape

        Realistically, if you've got two disks, that should be good enough, if one breaks, order a new one and sync up.

        In practice you can't wind tape into a new cart, certainly you can't splice them and haven't been able to for a long time. The only chance you've got is if the only thing that has gone wrong is the cart case itself, even then good luck, have you seen how long an LTO tape is? You're looking at >800m and have ever tried to re-coil a toilet roll?


    The problem? Pricing.

    Seriously, tape is expensive. Look it up. A piece of LTO-4 tape will set you back about US$40, and the drive can cost a whopping US$3000 apiece (I looked up the invoice my company spent for the IBM Ultrium LTO-4 drives they have installed on the servers I monitor). That price makes a blu-ray burner and media cheap by comparison. If tape really wants to come back to the consumer market, they should lower their cost enough to be consumer-friendly.

  10. fpx

    Years ago when disks were small and expensive, I had a QIC drive for storage and backups. Now I don't have a need for tape: my data measures in the hundreds of GB, and for the cost of a tape drive, I can buy many disks in the TB range.

    For my primary backup, I just plug in a USB drive and run rsync. For my secondary backup I do the same, but with a TrueCrypted drive that I keep at the office (in case the house burns down or so).

    Before going to tape I'd much rather look at cloud storage. But for that my uplink is currently too puny, and I'd want a service where I keep the encryption keys.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've used tape for backups for 30 years, it's been very reliable for me.

    A friend recently returned to tape after a corrupted HDD scenario, tape has some advantages. With tape you can easilly have lots of them in rotation, electronically and physically apart, std drives that you can pop it into anywhere etc. I always have about have 20 tapes in rotation, and one goes into permanent archive every 3 months. I use HDD backup for some things, but even that ends up on tape too. But it's probably only for bigger companies now...

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