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Ask the Experts: Tape media failure

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Q: Is there a way to anticipate tape media failures?


A. This is one of the big drawbacks of tape. In my experience, there's usually very little warning before a tape ruins your day. The best way to anticipate a failure is if you check your backup logs and/or tape drive message logs daily for errors or bad sense codes. The other way is if you know that a tape has been manhandled.

In one situation, I saw systemic tape errors on hundreds of tapes. It was related to "edge damage" where the servo track was crimped, resulting in the tape head not tracking properly. The damaged tapes were rendered effectively useless, and it had been caused not by a manufacturing defect, but when a stack of tapes fell over.

Issues such as these, in addition to the loss of tapes, wear-and-tear and seek/mount times, is why backup to disk and deduplication to disk are becoming more viable alternatives than tape.

--Ashley D'Costa, enterprise solutions architect, Mainland Information Systems Inc.

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This was first published in August 2008

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