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Tape vs. Cloud: Which Is Better for Data Backup?

Dec 2, 2020, 21:38 PM by Nick Natale

An effective data backup and disaster recovery solution will leverage the best aspects of various technologies and processes. For example, your company doesn’t need to choose between keeping your backup infrastructure 100% onsite or 100% in the cloud.


In fact, the commonly used 3-2-1 backup rule almost explicitly recommends a combination of on-prem physical media and cloud-based data backup. As a refresher, this rule calls for:

  • At least 3 copies of your data

  • At least 2 different types of media to store the data

  • At least 1 copy of the data kept offsite


But what are the specific advantages and drawbacks of physical media-storage solutions, such as tapes or disks, and cloud-based data backup? As we review them below, it should become clear which technology your company should trust to do the heavy-lifting of backing up your mission-critical data and digital assets.


The benefits of tape (or disk) backup


1. It’s familiar


In our experience speaking with thousands of IT teams over the years, this is the most commonly cited reason businesses continue to use onsite physical media, such as tapes, to back up their data.


We’ve heard countless times from IT professionals that they’ve become comfortable with the process of importing data onto backup tapes on a regular basis. Many have told us they find it reassuring to see the backup tapes onsite, because they serve as a reminder that the company is maintaining its digital assets responsibly and can always access them if needed.


2. It enables fast recovery


By definition, any type of on-prem data backup means the company will have a copy of that data nearby at all times. This means the IT team will be able relatively quickly to restore lost or corrupted data or applications to the company’s primary networks.


Warning: This advantage—fast recovery time—works only to the extent that the company keeps its backup tapes onsite. Many organizations accumulate so many tapes over time that they need to store them in offsite locations. In the event of an emergency, the fast-recovery advantage could be undermined if the IT team needs to wait for the necessary backup tapes to be delivered to the company’s offices from their storage location.


3. Storage is easy 


The onsite servers and other physical infrastructure needed to import corporate data onto backup tapes is often large and requires a great deal of space to store, but the tapes themselves are typically easy to stack and store. 


The disadvantages of tape (or disk) backup


1. Hardware failure


According to a story in TechTarget, media failure still ranks as one of the most common causes of backup and restore failures.


If a company maintains its backups entirely in tape or disk format, and one of those devices fails, the business could find itself with no means of recovering that lost data, ever.


2. Human error


That same TechTarget article points out that human error is another leading cause of company data loss. This is because a tape-based data backup process leaves a lot of room for mistakes.


Just a few of the many real-world examples of human error include forgetting to replace a tape at the end of a day, or storing tapes in an unsafe area—such as in extreme temperatures or where they’re placed too close to electromagnetism (which can wipe out the tapes’ data).


3. Hidden costs


I pointed out earlier that tape backups can be relatively easy to manage, once the business has put into place intelligent policies and routines. But it’s worth noting the (often overlooked) costs of those policies and routines—which can often involve a significant portion of time each day for IT personnel to physically manage data backups, maintenance of the backup equipment, troubleshooting, testing, and helping coworkers locate lost or corrupted files.


The costs of this backup management can add up quickly—in terms of salary and other hard-dollar expenses, as well as IT resources diverted to data backup from more important and forward-looking initiatives.


4. Vulnerability to theft


Here, a key characteristic of the on-prem tape backup method that many businesses view as a benefit —the fact that all data remains physically at the company’s location—can put that data at risk.


Whereas an offsite cloud-backup service will store data securely and redundantly at multiple data facilities, with an onsite backup system the business will usually store its own tapes and disks in the office, where it can be stolen.


5. Vulnerability to disaster


What happens if a business suffers a flood, fire, or other disaster at its primary location? If the company has no offsite duplication of the data, it will find it difficult if not impossible to recover that data and restore operations in a timely manner.


Or, to use a more timely real-world scenario, what happens if the entire company is suddenly forced to close down its offices for safety reasons, and transition its entire staff to remote work? When all of that company’s critical digital infrastructure is accessible only onsite, that creates its own type of vulnerability.


Here is how Dan Timko, Chief Strategy Officer for KeepItSafe’s parent company j2 Global, explains it in his IT disaster planning article for APMdigest: “A backup tape in a closet isn’t going to do you much good if everyone is stuck at home.”


The advantages of cloud backup


1. Reliability


No matter how highly rated a tape backup drive or other physical component of an onsite backup solution might be, these hardware components are all to varying degrees vulnerable to some form of failure.


With a cloud backup solution, by contrast, a business’s data will be automatically and at regular intervals transmitted to secure data centers in multiple geographical locations. This means that even if the business’s data at one facility were somehow compromised, the business could still immediately retrieve the data from the redundant secondary location.


For this reason, the best cloud backup providers can guarantee 100% data recovery from any loss at any time of day or night.


2. Accessibility


One often-overlooked weakness of onsite data backup is its potential inaccessibility in the event a natural disaster prevents physical access to the business’s facilities. 


If the neighborhood in which a company’s main office is located experienced a major flood or fire—and no employees were able to get into the building—would the business’s employees be able to access all critical files and applications? Unless the entire digital footprint of the company were backed up and networked, the answer would be no.


The great advantage of a cloud backup solution, then, is that a business’s employees would be able to access all of their data through the cloud provider from any networked device, any time of day. This could mean the difference between a business, prevented from entering its offices due to a natural disaster, from being able to continue its normal operations or having to shut down temporarily. 


3. Security


Although many businesses have an understandable fear of allowing their sensitive and proprietary data to be transmitted over the Internet, the truth is that moving their data to a cloud backup solution actually makes that data more secure than if it were left onsite. Here’s why.


First, the best cloud backup services first encrypt a business’s data on the business’s own servers, before they begin the automatic transmission of that data over the Internet for secure storage in the cloud. The best of these firms use AES 128-bit encryption levels, the highest standards available.


Second, once that data is moved to cloud storage at multiple data centers, it remains secure 24/7. These data centers use Tier-4, highly secure servers, as well as numerous physical security methods to guard the data centers themselves.


And third, the best cloud backup providers will have real teams of support engineers watching their customers’ data, 24/7, so that they can react immediately if there’s ever a potential issue.


4. Redundancy


The primary value of any data backup solution is that the data will always be there when a business needs it. But most onsite backup systems maintain only a single backup—which as we’ve seen is itself vulnerable to failure or loss.


This is one more reason that the right cloud backup solution can be so valuable to a business: the redundant solution of storing data at two secure facilities in different geographic areas means the odds against both copies of the data becoming inaccessible simultaneously are astronomically low.


5. Lower total cost of ownership


For all of these advantages over tape-based data backup, a cloud backup solution actually costs far less over the long-term.


Moving backup infrastructure to the cloud means a business will no longer need to invest in disks, tapes, drives, backup servers or other hardware and software needed to manage backup in-house. It also means the business can eliminate the costs to maintain and repair its backup hardware, renew its backup-software licenses, and continually buy more tapes, disks, and other removable storage media.


The disadvantages of cloud data backup


1. Backup speeds can be slower


Because data backed up onsite, onto physical media, doesn’t need to be transmitted over any network, that data can be backed up quickly. (Imagine copying a file stored on a USB drive to your computer.) When data is backed up to the cloud, however, after being encrypted that data is then sent over a secure Internet connection—meaning the entire process can take a bit longer. (Now imagine copying the file from your USB drive to your computer, and then emailing it to a colleague.)


2. Recovery requires an Internet connection


Again, a key distinction between onsite and cloud-based backup solutions is the need for an Internet connection for any cloud solution to be useful. Whereas a business can recover data from a disk or tape onsite (assuming the data was backed up properly), data backed up to the cloud will require Internet access to retrieve. A business opting for cloud backup, therefore, must ask itself, “If a disaster strikes, will our team have an Internet connection that allows them to access our mission-critical data in the cloud?”


3. The quality of cloud backup vendors varies wildly


Finally, it’s important to understand that there are literally thousands of businesses offering cloud backup and DR solutions. Some of these vendors are outstanding and worthy of your company’s trust. Others… aren’t. 


This is why you’ll need to research the industry, and narrow your list of potential cloud-backup partners to those companies that have a long track record of successfully protecting the data of thousands of businesses around the world.


Choosing the best cloud backup and DRaaS partner


If you’re convinced that a cloud solution is more effective, reliable, and affordable than keeping your company’s data backed up on tapes, then the choice of which backup and DR company to partner with should be an easy one.


KeepItSafe is one of the world’s most trusted and successful providers of cloud backup and disaster recovery solutions:

  • We’ve been backing up enterprise data every day for 20 years

  • Thousands of businesses around the world trust us with their mission-critical data

  • Under our North American brand, “OffsiteDataSync” we’ve been named “Partner of the Year” by Veeam, the world’s #1 cloud data management company


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