How much does Tape Backup cost?

How much does Tape Backup cost?

When people first enquire with Backup Direct, it is common that they have recently suffered at the hands of tape backup. It could be unsuccessful data retrieval, a two week old backup or an incidence of data exposure but whatever it is it has come at a cost for the company.

It’s usually after this that they start to reassess their current backup strategy.

Until recently, many people had no choice but to employ a tape backup programme for their company’s data protection. A few years ago, online backup seemed relatively expensive in comparison and was only for the super paranoid. However, in the last few years, the costs of online backup has come down considerably and the price implications against tape backup are much more favourable. After all, if you break down the cost of implementing a ‘reliable’ tape backup system, you’ll see that not only is it more effort to maintain, but it is also much more expensive.

The total cost of ownership for a reliable – and I say ‘reliable’ because even the most sophisticated tape backup system won’t have a 100% success rate – tape backup system is based on four areas. Now quite a few companies fail to implement all four of these areas because they see them as an unnecessary, additional cost but I will list these costs based on a professional attitude to data protection.

1. Hardware
A significant capital outlay – you’re looking at £500 for a tape drive, £200 for a backup software license and £150 for 5 tapes (based on one week retention). That’s an upfront cost of around £850. I say ‘around’ because you might be able to find cheaper hardware than that – although that will probably make recovery even less likely.

2. Daily Maintenance
Tape backup needs everyday management. It takes about 30 minutes at the end of the day to check the backups, label tapes, swap the tapes and check the integrity of the backup. Assuming the person responsible for data management in the company is worth £15 an hour, that works out to £150/month in time (£7.50 a day x 5 days a week x 4 weeks in a month). Of course, to save a bit of money you can get a particularly low paid and unqualified French intern student to do it.

3. Service calls
These costs can get a bit fuzzy because different companies vary in the frequency of service call outs. However, the costs usually come from IT Support companies paid to deal with onsite system breaks, restores, tape jams, software malfunctions e.t.c. It’s hard to judge how frequently these happen. But let us assume that over one year you need at least one significant call out or multiple small call outs for data restores or hardware fixes. That could be a day’s work coming in at around £500 – just an estimate – depending on the reputation and professionalism of your support company. You could be very lucky and not have much go wrong (either that or you don’t check), in which case you’ll save money here.

4. Offsite tape archiving
This is the most commonly overlooked process. For many companies it’s a hassle they don’t understand the true value of. Unfortunately, it is a vital component of the data protection cycle. If something were to happen to the office and all backup tapes were destroyed along with everything else – there is no more business, business would end.

To save money, companies ask employees to take backup tapes home with them every night. This workaround, however, is starting to be cracked down. The increasing number of data exposure cases in the media have forced the ICO into taking action. They see this practice as negligence and a direct breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. Unqualified employees cannot be trusted to reliably look after business critical data, and why should they? It’s not what they were employed to do.

For a company to adopt a professional approach to data protection, a ‘reliable’ tape backup policy will include regular offsite archiving costs. A monthly rotation and archiving service will cost £100. This includes tape pickup and internal storage costs. Again, this is a low-bar estimate.

So what does a ‘reliable’ tape backup system cost you today?

Taking into account all the cost listed above it’s possible to come up with a rough estimate.

  • Hardware costs, per month, based on 3 year depreciation: £25
  • Ongoing, in-house, monthly maintenance: £150
  • Monthly service costs for break/fix and restore call outs: £40
  • Offsite tape archiving costs: £100

Total cost of monthly ownership = £315

Naturally some will say that this figure is unrepresentative of their company. Many companies are given ‘free’ tape backup systems when they buy a server and some maintain the system themselves – but this will spread the time costs into other areas. I wholly admit that this is a rough estimate, but the objective of the exercise was to point out the often ‘hidden’ costs of tape backup. It’s not just about the cost of the hardware.

The main question here: why allocate so much resource to a backup strategy with only a 50% successful restore rate? Online backup is now a cheaper and significantly more reliable alternative. 

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