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Common causes for tape failures

Problem management
Tape devices are among the most active devices in the data center and, as such, are very prone to different types mechanical problems. The majority of mechanical failures occur during startup or shutdown cycles, as opposed to steady-state operational

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failures. In a large tape library environment, thousands of start/stop actions occur daily among the library robotics, drives and tape media elements. Inevitably, things will go wrong (see "Common causes for tape failures"). However, the disastrous consequences of a failed restore can be avoided if you actively practice proper systems management. Properly managing tape infrastructure issues and controlling associated risks is key to this.

Too often, organizations don't realize that they will have a problem restoring data until it's already too late. "Too late" usually means that the data has been lost and now must be recovered from tape. Regular, random testing of your restore procedures can help you avoid this eleventh-hour problem. Restore testing will help you identify potential bottlenecks, problem clients/data sets or breakdowns in your process. Identifying these obstacles prior to actually needing the data gives you sufficient time for tuning your environment and to prepare for the inevitable restore request. By simply integrating restore testing into the application delivery process, you gain preproduction exposure for potential recovery pitfalls. As data volumes grow, ongoing recovery testing should be given equal weight as performing software upgrade tests in any mission-critical application environment.

Prepare for disk
Over the next several years, it's quite possible that disk-based backup could potentially displace tape as the primary backup media. Until then, it is extremely critical to make sure that your current tape infrastructure continues to support all of your recovery needs. Restores are not just about technology: Overall operational procedures are also essential to successful backup and restore operations.

Rapidly introducing disk to replace a poorly managed tape infrastructure is a bad idea because it may very well exacerbate existing issues in your environment, at a high cost and at a great risk to your organization. Inadequate management or weak operational practices are often the root cause of the instability of tape infrastructures. As inadequate practices are rolled into a disk technology base, the underlying management problems will manifest themselves not only as restore failures, but they may also affect your entire backup infrastructure, seriously threatening the integrity of your data.

This was first published in October 2004

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