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Concerns raised on tape backup methods

Flaws in tape-based data backup may be leaving enterprises without key information and could lead to legal exposure, experts say.

Flaws in tape-based data backup may be leaving enterprises without key information and could lead to legal exposure under emerging laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley, say data backup and recovery experts.

Tape backups are still widely used to secure critical data from intentional corruption -- from a disgruntled employee, for instance -- as well as for keeping data stored offline, where it can't be corrupted should a hacker successfully attack an Internet-connected network. Meta Group predicts tape systems will remain a dominant method of data duplication for at least another four years, despite the fact that it can create additional security headaches, especially if used incorrectly.

In a survey of 500 IT departments completed in January, Meta Group found that as many as 20% of routine, nightly backups fail to capture all data.

Only now are more automatic options like disk-based backup and networked storage systems starting to be made available in the same price range as backup-to-tape options. "Let's face it, tape is cheap," said Forrester Research analyst Galen Schreck.

A March survey by the Yankee Group and Sunbelt Software found that 40% of IT managers had been unable to recover data from a tape when they needed it and that more than 23% sought to use data stored on tape backups more than 20 times in a year. The survey of 362 IT managers also found that 15% use tape storage as a way to comply with data retention regulations. In the same survey, 61% said they used tape for disaster recovery and more than a third were forced to use data stored on tapes at least five times a year.

Flaws in tape backup can have consequences beyond lost data. George Goodrich, Executive Software's product manager for file recovery system Undelete, says executives who have to swear by a company's records under Sarbanes-Oxley want the assurance of knowing the data is actually going to be there when they need it.

"There's a sense that people are starting to get concerned about their tape backups," said Goodrich. "People are realizing they're not as foolproof as they had hoped."

While hosted, offsite backup or hard-disk backup are more common, tape is still heavily used among small- and medium-sized businesses, said Chris Garrigues, a security consultant with Trinsic Solutions. "The problem is that you can only check the tape by reading it manually, so people usually find out there's a problem when they go to retrieve something and find it's not there," he added.

Tape remains a key element of many backup and disaster-recovery plans, but experts say over-reliance on it can be a recipe for disaster. "A data backup or recovery solution should give peace of mind, not cause worries on its own," said Goodrich.

Meta Group study

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