Where do you store backup tapes?

Backup tapes are cartridges containing tape media that are used for backing up and archiving critical data. They allow companies and individuals to store copies of important files, databases, and systems offsite in case of equipment failure, data corruption, natural disasters, or other catastrophic events that could otherwise cause permanent data loss. Proper storage of backup tapes is critical because they often contain irreplaceable business or personal data that would be impossible or extremely costly to recreate if the tapes were damaged (https://storware.eu/blog/the-importance-of-tape-backup-in-modern-data-storage/). If backup tapes are not stored safely and maintained properly, the data may become inaccessible, eliminating the protection and recoverability they are intended to provide.

Temperature & Humidity Controls

Backup tapes need to be stored in moderate temperature and humidity conditions to maximize their lifespan and reliability. Industry standards recommend keeping backup tapes around 65°F (18°C) with a relative humidity of 40% (Perpetual Storage, 2014). Allowing temperature or humidity levels to fluctuate too far out of this range can damage the tapes over time or impact data retention.

To regulate storage conditions, organizations should maintain proper HVAC systems and air filtration in their tape storage facilities. Monitoring and controlling temperature and humidity levels with sensors can help ensure optimal conditions are consistently met (Williams Data Management, 2017). Storing tapes away from exterior walls, windows, vents, and any environmental sources of heat, cold, or moisture can also help regulate conditions.

Protection from Dust & Debris

Backup tapes are susceptible to damage and contamination from environmental dust and debris. Even miniscule particles can interfere with read/write heads and degrade the magnetic encoding on tapes over time. For this reason, proper storage to protect tapes from dust is a critical best practice.

Dell recommends always using suitable cases with individual slots when transporting tapes to avoid contamination. Tapes should never be packed loosely where they could be exposed to dust or debris (Dell). Similarly, Iron Mountain advises that dust is the enemy of most media and storage devices. Keeping backup tapes enclosed in protective cases and cabinets is key (Iron Mountain).

Regular cleaning of tapes is also essential to remove any dust or dirt that may accumulate on the tape surface and affect data integrity. Following the cleaning recommendations from the tape manufacturer can maximize performance and lifespan (Nakivo). Overall, diligent precautions to keep backup tapes dust-free through proper storage containers and routine maintenance is vital.

Secure from Access & Theft

Physically securing backup tapes from unauthorized access is a critical security priority and considered a function of operations security (https://www.exam-answer.com/operations-security-domain). Tapes should be stored in a restricted area with stringent access controls to prevent theft or tampering. Only authorized personnel should have access to the tape storage area.

Surveillance cameras, intrusion detection systems, and security guards can provide additional protection. The storage area should be in a locked, climate-controlled room with limited points of entry. Access logs should record all entry and removals. Tapes should remain onsite instead of being transported offsite unnecessarily.

Tapes should be securely destroyed or erased when no longer needed. Proper management oversight, audits, and inventory control can further secure tapes from unauthorized access or removal. Following strict check-in/check-out procedures is critical.

Fire Prevention & Suppression

Data centers contain many potential fire risks that could lead to catastrophic data loss if a fire were to occur. With the heavy concentration of electronic equipment and electrical wiring, even a small flame or spark can spread rapidly if not properly contained. The high airflow environments found in most data centers provide ample oxygen to fuel a fast-moving blaze.

Several methods should be employed to prevent fires from starting in the first place. Keeping the facility clean and free of dust buildup prevents fuel sources from accumulating. Storing flammable materials away from the main equipment areas helps reduce risk. Conducting regular inspections of electrical systems and components can identify any potential ignition sources before they turn into fires. Proper cable management and avoiding tangled wires minimizes electrical hazards.

For fire detection, an integrated system of smoke detectors and heat sensors should be installed. These devices can quickly alert staff to fire conditions so immediate response can begin. Fire suppression systems are also a necessity. Gas-based systems that displace oxygen can extinguish flames without damaging equipment. Water sprinklers may also be used but require proper water containment and leak detection. Portable extinguishers provide backup manual suppression capabilities.

By combining preventative strategies with advanced monitoring and suppression systems, the fire risk to irreplaceable data backup archives can be greatly reduced. This protection is essential for any organization that values its information assets.

Water & Flood Control

Water damage poses a major risk for backup tapes and media. Water can wash away the iron oxide material on tapes, erasing data (https://cool.culturalheritage.org/waac/wn/wn19/wn19-2/wn19-206.html). Even brief exposure to water can cause corrosion and make recovery difficult or impossible. Tapes that get wet should be air dried immediately in a low humidity environment to prevent further damage.

To mitigate flood risks, backup tapes should be stored well above ground level in a facility designed to prevent water intrusion. Use watertight doors, seal walls and entry points, install subsurface drainage, and place equipment on elevated platforms. Also store tapes in watertight containers. Have a disaster plan to immediately move tapes to a safe location in case of flooding. With proper flood prevention and immediate action after exposure, it may be possible to recover data from wet tapes (http://www.specsbros.com/disaster-recovery-magnetic-tapes-can-survive-flood-exposure.html).

Handling & Transportation

Proper handling and transportation of backup tapes is crucial to prevent damage or loss. Tapes should always be handled carefully to avoid drops, bumps, or exposure to magnetic fields which could erase data. Operators should wear anti-static wrist straps when handling tapes. Tapes should be firmly seated in cartridges and avoid direct sunlight or extreme temperatures during transport.

For transportation, tapes should be placed in protective cases or boxes padded with foam or bubble wrap. Containers should be clearly labeled as containing backup media. Chain of custody forms should track who handles the tapes at each step. Tapes should be securely transported in locked vehicles rather than handed off between multiple couriers.

Offsite tapes should be transported in fireproof, waterproof cases. Consider using armored car services with GPS tracking for transporting large volumes of tapes. Establish procedures for reporting and recovering any lost tapes.

Offsite & Cloud Storage

Offsite and cloud storage provide important benefits for backup tapes. Storing tapes offsite mitigates risk from localized disasters like fires or floods that could destroy onsite backups. Reputable companies like Iron Mountain offer secure offsite tape vaulting with optimal storage conditions and retrieval when needed.

Cloud backup services are another excellent option, with benefits like:

  • Geographic redundancy across multiple data centers
  • Lower costs compared to physical tapes and storage
  • Faster and easier recovery of data
  • Encrypted security and restricted access controls
  • Automated processes for backup and recovery

Leading cloud providers offer specialized services like cloud-to-cloud backup, ensuring affordable offsite redundancy for critical data.

Testing & Maintenance

Regular testing and maintenance of backup tapes is crucial to ensure they can be reliably restored when needed. Tapes should be tested at least quarterly to identify any issues with readability or damage. A sample of tapes from the rotation should be restored to a separate system to verify the integrity of the backup data and process

Tapes also need to be rotated regularly and replaced as they near the end of their useful life, which is generally around 5 years for LTO tapes. A schedule should be in place to use each tape a certain number of times, then retire and replace it. Tapes that fail testing should be immediately pulled from the rotation. Proper tape rotation and replacement ensures your most critical backups are not relying on old, unreliable media.


Proper storage and handling of backup tapes is crucial to ensure data integrity and availability when needed for restores. This involves maintaining proper temperature, humidity, security, fire prevention and offsite rotation. Key storage considerations include:

  • Storing tapes in a temperature and humidity controlled environment to avoid degradation.
  • Protecting tapes from dust, debris and access by unauthorized personnel.
  • Implementing fire suppression systems and water damage prevention.
  • Rotating tapes to an offsite location for protection against site disasters.
  • Regularly testing tapes to verify integrity and readability.

With proper care and management, backup tapes continue to provide a reliable and cost-effective method for long term data retention and disaster recovery. Organizations must invest appropriate resources into tape storage, handling and testing to realize these benefits.