Tape Cartridges: Safely Handle your Back-up

By: Mark Sear

Hard-disks are electro mechanical devices and, even though they are very reliable, as they age they will suffer from mechanical wear and will fail. To keep your valuable data safe it is important to make regular backups. Tape backup systems have been in use for many years now and are still the most cost-effective way to store your data. However, as tape capacities increase, the materials used become thinner and the recording density increases. This means that the risks of tape damage are higher as well and a great deal of care in storage, handling and transportation is needed to secure your data, especially if it is the only copy of vital information.

Storage tips.
Experts on data recovery will advise the following to prevent problems with your tape:
&bullStore the tape in a safe place. Do not stack tapes in piles where they run the risk of being knocked over.
&bullKeep the cartridges clean. To prevent read/write errors and physical damage, never put a dirty cartridge or a cartridge with a peeling label in the drive. Equally, keep your drives clean and never put a tape in a dirty drive.
&bullNever expose the tape by opening the door on the cartridge or lifting the flap.
&bullNever touch the tape itself, not even the non-recording surface. Grease from your skin or other contaminations could be transferred to the recording surface and lead to media decay.
&bullNever store a tape in areas where there is a high level of dust, or any risk of exposure to corrosive gases or chemicals.

Transportation tips.
Transportation of cartridges should always be in accordance with the guidelines, even if only moving within the office:
&bullContainers must be tough enough to withstand the rigors of shipping.
&bullData cartridges must be held firmly and separated from one another.
&bullContainers must have internal padding.
&bullContainers must be clean to avoid contamination to the cartridges.
&bullA recommended minimum of 80mm gap between the surface of any cartridge and the outer surface of a transport container is needed to protect against magnetic fields.
Take extra precautions for transportation outside the office, especially if carried out by third-party carriers. Always ship it by a direct carrier to make sure that your tape will not sit overnight in a place where you have no control over temperatures and humidity.

Usage tips.
Before using the tape, always check everything. It might seem a little extreme, but imagine what you can lose.
&bullLet your tape cartridge acclimatize to new environmental conditions before using it, recommended is a 12-24 hour period after transportation into a new environment.
&bullEach tape has a maximum of duty cycles. Keep a record of the number of times the tape is used to prevent over-using tapes.

If a tape cartridge is damaged it might not be visible externally. If you suspect a tape has been damaged, or you know it has been dropped, and there is a potential risk of internal damage, stop using it. If it is still functional, duplicate the tape to save your data and retire the cartridge but do not attempt to make further use of the tape as even if it appears to be working it may well fail just when you are relying on it. Better to be safe than needing a data recovery from your damaged tape cartridge.

Data Recovery
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