Tape Backup on the wane, as Cloud gets prominence

August 3, 2011

When we look at traditional backup solutions, tape has been the dominant method of backup for the last two decades and is still in usage across the globe. However, tape backup is gradually receding because of its technological disadvantages and high costs; and online backup is capturing market share at an extra-ordinary rate, as a preferred backup solution.

Santa Clara Consulting Group, which tracks the tape market, has predicted 25% reduction in tape backup sales over 2009-2011 and the tape market has actually shrunk from $2.28 BN to $1.58 BN in the last 24 months.  Similarly, data from CTO Edge survey reveals that 71% of the respondent had said that they would increase usage of cloud computing services while 60% of them are planning to phase out tape.

In terms of forecast for backup, industry experts predict online backup to be the de facto standard of backup over the next 10 years.

Question remains why cloud backup service has gained so much popularity in a short span of time?

Tape Vs Online Backup


With tape-based backup solution, the integration and installation is complex.  It requires a central IT team to configure and install it in the system, which is a time-consuming and tedious process.  In online backup, you simply deploy the backup software across all the PCs you want to protect and you are finished with installation.


Data coverage with tape backup is seriously flawed. With tape-based centralized architecture, it only protects the PCs which are within the system. Laptops cannot be covered, branch offices are off limits and any distributed data outside the system is not backed up, & hence not protected. With cloud-based architecture of online backup, any device such as laptops, workstations, all are covered under the backup cloud.


With tape backup, the media is going to be rotated off-site every day.  With the best cloud-based backup service, there is facility called continuous data protection or CDP where the data is backed up on an incremental basis every day or every hour or every minute as and when the data is created.


Recovery is a serious problem area in tape-based backup. It involves a major effort where the central IT team will be doing a full restore of tapes.  They should find all of the incremental archives and apply those incremental recoveries.  With online backup, recovery is incredibly powerful, which can be done with a simple desktop application.  It doesn’t involve any IT staff; any users who are connected to the system can access their files easily.  More importantly, you can see any version of the file you have ever backed up.


In terms of security, tape backup is terrible.  The stored media is subject to failure, theft and loss.  With online backup, full redundancy is built-in.  Data is replicated in multiple datacenters.  Data is stored in encrypted format once it leaves the system, transferred in a secured SSL tunnel and is stored in federal level encryption format.

Access to Data:

With tape-based backup, access to data is a very tedious process, where the entire IT team is involved in accessing the data and would take days before the data is accessed.  Online backup facilitates instant access to the data.  Data can be accessed anywhere, the user just needs a PC with internet connection to access the data.  Data can be accessed by mobile devices like blackberry or iPhone anywhere in the world.


In terms of management, tape backup requires extensive IT staff maintenance.  Tapes are not physically secured.  Recoverability is a major issue.  According to statistics, up to 65% of the tape based backup fail.  Online backup is just a simple set-and-forget software installation.  Any end-user can easily schedule and manage the backup.


Tape backup is highly expensive.  Costs include IT staff maintenance, manual storage of tape offsite and extensive man-hours involved for recoverability.  Online backup costs about one-half or one-third of tape-based backup solution.

So, what we see is an archaic but widely relied-on technology i.e. tape backup getting phased out, and making way for the latest in the cloud-based architecture. Are you backing up online yet?

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