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If you thought tape backup was a relic of the past, you’re right. Do not be mistaken, though; the technology has kept up with the business needs of modern companies.

  • How does Google archive your Gmail account? Magnetic tape backup.
  • How do the largest banks in the world back up their financial records? Magnetic tape backup.
  • What does the IRS use to archive tax records? You guessed it—magnetic tape backup.
  • Media and film companies, big pharma, major insurers, publicly held corporations—any organization that manages a growing pool of data likely uses magnetic tape media backup for regulatory compliance, archives, and disaster recovery purposes.

With the recent introduction of LTO-7 tapes and drives, we see tape backup keep right on evolving. See new LTO-7 drives and tape cartridges here; read on to learn more about modern tape backup implementations.

What exactly is LTO-7?

Linear Tape-Open (LTO) technology was co-created by tape manufacturers Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Quantum (now Seagate) in the late ‘90s. LTO standardized tape media making it cross-compatible with vendors’ backup drives.

First generation LTO tape media (called LTO-1 Ultrium) stored 100 GB of uncompressed data at a 2:1 compression ratio. Maximum transfer rate reached 20 MB/s. LTO grows denser and faster every generation.

LTO roadmap

AES-256 encryption was introduced with LTO-4, and drive partitioning was introduced in LTO-5.

The current generation LTO-7 cartridges hold 15 TB of uncompressed data at a 2.5/1 compression ratio. Transfer speeds top out at 750 MB/s.

Compatibility and LTO tape media

As you can see in the chart above, Tape media (the cartridges) and backup drives (the reading and writing devices) increase capacity, transfer speed, and add security features every couple of years.

LTO tape media drives are backward write compatible for one generation and read compatible for two. Check the product pages for specifications about LTO compatibility, but this is the rule of thumb.

Why does tape backup still make sense?

  • Tape is more reliable than spinning drives, optical media, and flash storage.
  • It has the most affordable cost per TB available.
  • Scaling for tape backups requires less additional hardware, energy for power or cooling mechanisms per terabyte compared to disk storage.
  • Tapes are portable and easily stored offsite for disaster recovery.
  • Secure from cyber threats since it is offline most of the time.

When should you NOT use tape backup?

Tape is not meant as a primary backup medium. They are not an alternative for hardware or software RAID setups. Tape backup cannot provide the restore speeds that HDD or SSD backups. Disk failure will result in significant down time if a business uses exclusively tape backups.

Tape backups usually hold data that in all likelihood will not be accessed. It often is kept around to meet regulatory and compliance rules, or catastrophic data loss scenarios.

LTO-6 and LTO-7 tape backup drives—price points and features

Entry level LTO drives start around $1,300 and range to around $6,000 for enterprise equipment.

What do you get for the money? Higher end backup drives have larger capacities (more slots for backup media), use later generation LTO, have faster transfer speeds, and offer automated features for unattended backup operations. Configuration is done with a Web-based app, and some backup drives have touch screen interface controls.

LTO-6 and LTO-7 drives to compare:

Tape backup and the 3-2-1 rule for disaster recovery

Many companies use tapes as part of the 3-2-1 backup rule for disaster recovery. In short, the 3-2-1 backup rule entails:

  • Having three copies of your data at all times
  • Storing the copies on two types of media (cloud, disk storage, or tape storage)
  • Keep one backup copy in an offsite location.

Tapes are commonly kept offsite in modern backup scenarios. Companies cycle tapes to keep them current as well. There are several ways to rotate tapes that optimize efficiency with your tape backup system.

Suggested further reading about backup rotation scheme

Final thoughts

Does your company still utilize tape backups? Will you be looking at LTO-7 technology to enhance tape backup operations—why or why not?

Tape Backup Ain’t Broke, It Keeps Getting Better
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Tape Backup Ain’t Broke, It Keeps Getting Better
Tape backup technology has kept up with the business needs of modern companies. It's now better than ever with new LTO-7 standard.
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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