Tape Drives Still Offer A Viable Backup Solution
Tape data drives have been around for a very long time. Almost as long as computers have existed in fact. Tape backup technology itself is quite basic. Data tape drives and their media operate on the exact same technology that is used in your Walkman or VCR. Considering that both the Walkman and VCR are now obsolete objects in terms of current entertainment you'll get an idea of just how old tape drive technology really is.
For years tape drives were only used by large companies, Universities and Government bodies simply because tape drives were very expensive to run and maintain. Entire teams of people were dedicated to just maintaining these drives. In the early days tape drives were just beyond the budget of any normal computer user.
As technology improved and became cheaper computer tape storage began to move into the home. Anybody reading this who ever owned an early Sinclair, Commodore, Amstrad or BBC microcomputer will be familiar with the process of loading your games and other applications from a tape record deck either beside or inside your PC. For those of you not familiar with this process - be thankful! There's a certain element of nostalgia associated with tape data storage but time has moved on.
Advantages And Disadvantages
Data storage rates increased and tape backup technology matched this. Kilobytes of storage were replaced with Megabytes, Gigabytes and now Terabytes. This is the single biggest advantage of tape drives - absolutely massive storage capacities compared to just about every other form of data backup and storage. Terabytes of storage will soon be replaced by Petabyte capacities.
What are the disadvanatages of tape drives? They're slow. Even the DAT tape backup systems are slow compared to other forms of data storage and backup. Tape drives cannot read data randomly from the tape itself - the information has to be retrieved and stored sequentially.
To put this in perspective, imagine yourself having 1,000,000 sheets of paper. On sheet number 1,000,000 is the information you're looking for. Unfortunately the paper is setup sequentially so you'll need to go through pages 1 - 999,999 to finally get the information you need. This is very time consuming.
The other big niggle with tape drives is the media they use. Backup with tape can have its own problems. Firstly the tape which is fragile. It can snag, break and develop errors quite easily. Retrieving data from a damage data tape can be at best costly and at worst totally impossible.
Tape drives are still widely used in large companies for network wide backups where Terabytes of storage are required. The quest continues for a corporate tapeless backup system. The ongoing development of backup technology will eventually see the tape drive being replaced in corporate IT.
Are there tape backup alternatives? Sure. For those of you requiring mass data storage then you could look at a SATA RAID system for your PC. Another good alternative is an external USB or Firewire hard drive. These currently offer up to 1,000GB of high speed data storage and backup.