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Care of Computer Backup Tapes

Altirium recommend that you consult media manufacturers and read the information supplied with your media with regard to the safe storage and transportation of tape cartridges.

The information below is for guidance only.

An item as low cost as a tape data cartridge can contain a highly valuable amount of data, in some cases the only copy of something vital, so it is worth taking a great deal of care.

Storage, handling and transportation must be dealt with correctly if your data is to be safeguarded and to last for its retention period.

If you have never tried to restore from a tape then you could be wasting your time and nurturing a false degree of confidence about the security of your data.

Handling of Cartridges

As tape capacities increase so the materials used become thinner, the recording density increases and so both the susceptibility to damage and the amount of data you stand to lose increase dramatically.

At Altirium we advise the following basic rules be followed with tape cartridges:

  • Don't stack them high, this increases the risk of tapes being knocked over and landing from height.
  • Never put a dirty, or damaged cartridge in a drive.
  • Check for sticky labels on the cartridge, make sure they are secure and not lifting or peeling, and that no area of the label will interfere with the operation of the cartridge in the drive.
  • Avoid opening the door on the cartridge, or lifting the flap in the case of DAT etc., to expose the tape.
  • Never touch the tape, neither the recording or non-recording surface. When wound onto the spool, the non-recording surface is in direct contact with the recording surface, so any contaminants will be transferred. Grease from your skin could cause problems, and any other contaminants may eventually lead to media decay.

If a cartridge is dropped

If a cartridge is dropped then there is a risk of damage internally, even if not visible externally. Get the cartridge checked by someone who understands the operation of the particular tape cartridge. Internal damage might not have an immediate effect so we recommend that no further use be made of a cartridge that has been dropped.

If it contains important data that is not stored elsewhere or backed up on other media, and the cartridge appears to be functional, get the data from the tape duplicated then retire the cartridge. You do not want to find out when reading the tape becomes critical, that the tape is damaged and unreadable.

Transportation of Cartridges

Even if only moving tape cartridges within your office, you should follow transportation guidelines. Cartridges should be packed in properly designed transportation cases.

If the tape is to be moved off-site then extra precautions should be taken, especially if you are using a third-party carrier.

If the data is critical then ship it by a direct carrier, do not have your vital data sat overnight in a warehouse where you have no control over temperature, humidity and potential contamination.


For more detailed advice on the packaging and transportation of data cartridges you can contact major media manufacturers such as Imation.

General guidance on shipping containers:

  • containers must be tough enough to withstand the rigours of shipping.
  • data cartridges must be held firmly and separated from one another.
  • the container must have internal padding or cushioning so that any external force applied to the container does no translate to internal force applied to any cartridge.
  • containers must be clean to avoid contamination to the cartridges.
  • Remember: Inspect, inspect, inspect, never assume all is well.

Environmental considerations

Imation, on their website, recommend a minimum 80mm gap between the surface of any cartridge and the outer surface of a transport container to protect against magnetic fields.

Tapes should not be stored in areas where there is a high level of dust, or any risk of exposure to corrosive gases or chemicals.

Where you have taken receipt of tape cartridges they should be allowed to acclimatise in ideal environmental conditions. We have seen recommendations ranging from 12 to 24 hours.

Some of this might seem extreme, but consider what you stand to lose. Failure to acclimatise tapes, incorrect storage environment and inadequate packaging might not have an immediate effect but the long term impact could well be that the life of the data cartridge is dramatically reduced and with it your data leading to problems and probably the requirement to use a data recovery service.

Avoid Over-Use

Keep a record of the number of times each tape has been used and don’t make the mistake of trying to save a small amount of money by over-using tapes and then needing a tape data recovery service.

Each manufacturer supplies details of the maximum duty cycles for each tape. Just remember that a DLT or an LTO, and any other serpentine recording drive, will pass along the length many times when writing or reading a full tape. Also, if your systems are not supplying data to or reading data from a drive at a fast enough rate then the stop-reposition-start ("shoe-shining" on fast drives) is adding to the duty cycles at positions along the tape.

Stick well within the guidelines published by the media manufacturer.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 17 June 2009 13:55)

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