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Estimate and Maintain the Lifespan of Backup Tape Media

By CIOReview | Thursday, July 28, 2016

Organizations of all sizes are developing, storing, creating, backing up, and archiving large amounts of data on a daily basis. As per the studies, the major part of this data is left untouched after its genesis, which dismantles a firm’s trajectory to remain compliant with its ongoing endeavors. Going back to the same dataset or not, an organization should store all the information prudently to follow the right path paved by HIPPA and other stringent corporate regulations. In the near future, the data stored by the companies will have a size in petabytes or zettabytes, which will demand a compliant, less expensive, accountable, and compact storing facilities to curb the compliance issues.

Both Magnetic Tape Drives and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) play a pivotal role in the backup storage since the inception of storage technology. Practically, Tape Drives take the upper hand as many large data centers still use it over HDDs due to the low implementation cost and formidable updates, thanks to the Linear Tape Open (LTO) technology. LTO is an open standard for magnetic tape storage developed jointly by HP, IBM, and Quantum.

Single tape in LTO cartridges can store up to 6.2 TB which means in less than 14 sq. ft, LTO tape can store 6 TB of data. They are fast in terms of performance and retrieve data in a matter of seconds. It is lower in cost per GB, reduced energy costs, and offers 30 years of Shelf life. The LTO tapes come with the estimated life span, however, how we can determine the actual lifespan of a backup tape media? Life estimate of tape media differs from company to company that vary with respect to “Shelf life” and “Active life.”

Active life and Shelf life are two different entities that need to be considered for better understanding of the lifespan of a tape media. Consider the situation of a tape used for the long term archiving of data; it runs once, stores data and sits idle for long period of time. In that case, a tape is in an active back up rotation, the data writing takes place frequently over a short period of time while increasing the amount of wear and tear on the backup tape media.

While estimating the lifespan of the tape media, it is important to consider how a particular tape has been used. Keep in mind that tapes are used in an active backup rotation before they begin the long-term archive task. Reports from various organizations reveal that the companies are able to write and read in backup tapes at least 250 times before the media run to produce errors on a consistent basis. Even though 250 uses over 30 years could be considered to be an effective starting point for some types of tapes such as LTO, it is very crucial for each organization to monitor their backup logs for tape errors.

Consider some of the factors that are responsible for life expectancy of a Tape media to better estimate and maintain the life of your organization’s Tape media:

  • quality with which the media was manufactured;
  • temperature and humidity;
  • number of times the tape media is accessed over its lifetime;
  • the maintenance with which the media is handled;
  • the cleanliness of the storage environment; and
  • the quality of the device used to write to or read from the media

Steps to Maximize Your Tape Media’s Life

Quality, temperature, cleanliness, and humidity play a huge role in a tape's life expectancy. Adhere to the Tape Vendors’ environmental recommendations to increase the life expectancy of a Tape media. Deviating from the recommendation could lead to the decrease of Tape’s life span. Take appropriate measures for the following objects to increase your tape media’s life.


Maintain the storage and operational environments constant within the range of 17°C to 20°C. Action of chemical breakdown can be controlled by storing the media in a cool and dry place. Also, keep tape media away from the magnetic fields, radiation, and sunlight that affects the storage media. The reason for keeping the storage and operational environments the same is to reduce the stress in the media during transfer of information from one to the other.


Cleanliness plays a crucial part in the archival recovery; lack of cleanliness will often leads to failure of the process. Do not permit eating, smoking, and drinking in both storage and operational areas, and do not operate in an obviously contaminating pressure area. Avoid paper dust. It is also advised to avoid locate a media device near a copier or a printer.


The recording set up must be free from contamination. It should be immaculate and must be tested to spec both mechanically and electrically.

Preparation for storage

Storage media should be labeled properly. Make sure to indicate the relevant information such as the date, recording device, error statistics, parameter settings, and log number for pertinent information. The tape media should be placed in a storage container. It is recommended to use polyethylene bag to seal the storage container prior to long-term storage.


For the recovery of backup data, ensure that it is sticking to the specification and is clean. Stabilize the environment to ideal conditions, if possible, for 24 hours before starting the procedure.