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Is tape the problem?
In a complex process such as backup that involves a mix of servers, software and storage devices, it's sometimes hard to pin a failed backup on one particular component. "The problems aren't necessarily with the tape vendor," remarked a respondent, "but have to do with the complicated environment--backup client, API client, DB client, tape sharing software [and so on]."

Rich Gadomski, vice president of marketing for the recording media division at Fujifilm, heartily agrees. "Media failure is almost like a default setting; it doesn't really indicate that there's a problem with the tape itself," he says. Gadomski adds that most media errors are due to "software, hardware, firmware, power supply issues or improperly maintained equipment."

Nearly 60% of survey respondents said their backups fail less than once a week on average, but approximately one-quarter (25.6%) reported two or more failed backups weekly. When asked to rate the most frequent causes of failed backups (see Figure 5, this page), the culprits receiving the highest responses as occurring sometimes, often or always were tape cartridges (52.9%) and human error (51.6%). Clearly, tape reliability is perceived as a key factor in the success--or failure--of a backup operation.

Respondents were asked to indicate the number of tape failures they experience each month with the tape formats primarily used in

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their shops (see Figure 6, this page). While the results for most formats fell into the range of 1.5 to 2.5 failures per month, 9840 and 9940 cartridge users reported 4.2 and 3.2 monthly failures, respectively. Interestingly, 31.5% of respondents said they use Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) libraries, which almost tied them with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) libraries for first place in this category. StorageTek also notched a very high score for library quality, with 91.4% of respondents rating their libraries as good, very good or excellent. StorageTek's tape drives earned a similarly high score of 92.2%, putting it at the top of the charts for that category.

Overall, there doesn't seem to be any correlation between tape problems and the tape format used. The number of respondents who said tape failure was a significant problem or a problem, and the number who characterized it as just an annoyance or not really a problem were fairly equal across all tape formats. Similarly, no smoking gun emerged when the same criteria were applied to tape brands used by respondents; there was no discernible correlation between the perceived seriousness of the tape failure problem and any particular tape brands.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

This was first published in February 2005

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