After being in business for any amount of time, you soon realize the importance of having good backups. Maybe you need to restore a single document that was accidentally deleted. Or perhaps you have extensive customer records to archive for years at a time and you are quickly running out of space.

Most of all, you need backups to ensure your business can recover in the event of a major disruption — hardware failure, natural disasters or unwanted external intrusion.

Which is better for you, tape or disk drive backup systems?

The answer is more than a discussion of technology or cost. Rather, you need to examine your business practices and find a solution that fits the way business works.

Tape Backup Advantages

Less moving parts

Tapes are generally more shock resistant than disk drives. Tape cartridges are simple mechanisms that contain the media with few moving parts. Hard drives, on the other hand, have multiple moving parts — heads, spindles and the disk platter. If the drive is dropped, the tape cartridge is more likely to survive the fall as the tape has no internal drive heads or spindles to break upon impact.

Off-site portability for disaster recovery

A tape has a distinct advantage in its compact form factor that lends itself to portability. You can easily transport tape backups to multiple off-site locations for redundancy and security.

A strong disaster recovery strategy includes off-site storage as a critical factor for successful recovery. As a portable, off-line media, a tape is a great way of isolating your data and insuring against data loss.

In many cases, disk-based backups must be kept on the primary business site
. In the event of a disaster like fire, flood, hurricane or power surge, your business may be left without any means of retrieving your critical data.

Easy storage and long-term archiving

To meet legal or compliance regulations, many countries require businesses to store multiple types of data such as email, documents or financial records for long periods of time. Additionally, medical practices and doctors are discovering they need to save patient records almost indefinitely. You may never look at these archived items again, but you still have to keep them.

Today’s digital tapes have a shelf life of approximately 20 years. As an additional bonus, tape media requires no energy during storage, only when you need it to be accessed for a restore.

Most hard disks will wear out long before then. Disks pose a greater long-term storage risk because their moving parts tend to deteriorate faster without use.

Less vulnerability to spreading virus

Increasingly, virus attacks can corrupt data on your hard drive. A tape provides a secure and reliable way of protecting critical business information. Disk backups will preserve viruses in the backup that could spread to other files on the disk (or other disks). With tapes, you will normally have an archive that was created prior to the infection which provides a virus-free restore. Plus, viruses copied to tapes cannot infect the rest of the data on the tape or other backups in your library.

Advantages of Disk-Based Backup Solutions

Less cost at start-up

If cost is your number one consideration, disk-based solutions can provide you with a lower cost in the beginning. Disk-based systems are relatively inexpensive, depending on exactly what kind of disk system you purchase. Standard USB external disk drives are very affordable and quick to set up. Tape drives on the other hand can cost as much as two or three times the price of one of these hard drives.

You can buy multiple hard drives individually and therefore incur the cost with each purchase. A good solution is to purchase a removable hard drive system that provides you with a bay so you can purchase individual removable disk drive media.

Speed of access

A disk-based storage writes data randomly on the spinning platter and can therefore very quickly retrieve any piece of data on the disk. A tape, however, must start at the beginning and write data sequentially across the media. Finding a single piece of data takes time as the drive reads through the entire tape.

A disk, on the other hand, greatly increases data access and reduces restore times. This becomes particularly important when restoring individual files or small amounts of data. Or in the event of disaster recovery, some disk backup systems provide you with an image of your entire data and operating system that can provide you with extremely fast, plug-and-play restore capabilities


Most often, your disk backup system is connected and online, whether it is located locally or across a network. That means your business has virtually 24x7 access to data backups from almost anywhere within the network. With a tape, you will need to physically locate the tape volume from the archives to retrieve data.

Ease of use, management

Normally, disk-based backups are managed through a centralized console accessible across the network. This infrastructure allows users to backup and share resources among multiple servers simultaneously with little or no monitoring resulting in fewer problems. Backups can run simultaneously. You can just "set it and forget it." A tape usually requires you to wait for the backup to complete. Then, you have to switch resources and begin again. With a disk array, multiple streams can run at the same time.

Plus, a disk backup system has the additional advantage of using the same or similar format to the backed-up disk. So, restoring data can be as simple as point and click from one disk drive to the next.

A Final Consideration

As you can see, both tape and disk backup solutions have their own advantage. Disk backups may be relatively inexpensive, but a tape provides a great solution for storing multiple backups off-site for additional protection. A disk offers considerable advantages for short-term backup needs by offering faster access to data and faster system recoveries. Tapes tend to be more durable with less moving parts in the media.

Ultimately, a balanced backup strategy uses both disk and tape. You can store the latest backup to an online disk for fast, reliable restores. Then, you can copy the disk-based backups to low cost tape for long-term storage and off-site archiving. This method is known in the industry as disk-to-disk-to-tape backup, or D2D2T, and is considered to be the most reliable method for preserving your data.

And remember, when it comes to backups, redundancy is good.

For more information and help choosing the right solution that fits into your business model, contact a Dell representative or visit the
Solution Center online.