Where should you store backup media?

Backup media refers to the physical media that is used to store backup copies of data, such as hard drives, tapes, or optical discs. Properly storing and protecting backup media is crucial, as it contains the only copy of data in case of a disaster or data loss event. Losing backup media can lead to permanent and irrecoverable loss of important business, personal, or historical information.

According to NetApp, “A proper backup copy is stored in a separate system or medium, such as tape, from the primary data to protect against the possibility of data loss due to intentional or accidental alteration, deletion, destruction, or corruption of the primary data” (https://www.netapp.com/cyber-resilience/data-protection/data-backup-recovery/what-is-backup-recovery/). Backups serve as a last line of defense against data loss and system failures. Without properly stored and maintained backup media, recovering lost data may range from difficult to impossible.

On-site vs Off-site Storage

On-site storage refers to keeping backup media on-premises, usually in the same building as the systems being backed up. Some pros of on-site storage include faster recovery time since the media is nearby, potentially lower costs depending on the backup solution, and full control over security and access. However, on-site storage also comes with risks – if a disaster like fire, flood or theft occurs in the building, the backup media could be damaged or stolen along with the original data.

Off-site storage involves keeping backup media at a different geographical location, usually hosted at a specialized data center or with a cloud backup provider. Pros of off-site storage are protection against site disasters, potential cost savings from leveraging existing secure facilities, and removing human error risks of misplacing media. Cons can include slower recovery time if restoring over the network, reliance on an external provider, and data privacy concerns. According to TechTarget, the most common forms of off-site backup are cloud backup and transporting media to an alternate secure facility.

Environmental Conditions

Proper environmental conditions are critical for storing backup media. Temperature, humidity, and dust/dirt levels can all impact the lifespan and reliability of tapes, disks, and other media.

The recommended temperature range for backup storage is between 62-75°F (Source). Temperatures outside of this range, especially high heat, can degrade magnetic properties and shorten media lifespan. Cooler temperatures around 65°F are ideal.

Humidity levels should be kept around 40% (Source). Higher humidity risks mold growth and media degradation. Lower humidity could lead to static electricity discharge problems.

Dust and dirt particles can scratch backup media and interfere with read/write heads. Storing media in enclosed cabinets or containers helps avoid dust accumulation and damage.

Physical Security

Proper physical security measures are critical when storing backup media. Media should be kept in a restricted access, locked room or cabinet to prevent unauthorized access (url). Only authorized personnel should have access to these storage areas, using keys, access cards, or biometric access controls. Store media in a room without windows or ensure windows are secured. Consider installing an alarm system, CCTV cameras, and strict protocols for entering the room.

Media cabinets provide an extra layer of physical security and organization. Look for sturdy, fire-rated cabinets with locks. Maintain an inventory of all backup media stored in the cabinet. Establish procedures for authorizing removal and return of media. The storage room and cabinets should be in a clean, climate-controlled space away from water, heat, and magnets.

Fire Protection

Proper fire protection is crucial for safe backup media storage. Some key considerations include:

Fire suppression systems like 3M Novec 1230 can detect and extinguish a fire before severe damage occurs. These systems are often built into purpose-built data vaults and storage cabinets.

Fire-resistant safes and cabinets made of materials like steel can withstand high temperatures from fires. For example, ioSafe offers disaster-proof safes that can withstand temperatures up to 1550°F for 30 minutes while protecting sensitive electronics and data inside.

Storing backup media in a fire-rated safe deposit box at an off-site location like a bank can also provide an extra layer of protection.

Regular testing and maintenance is important to ensure fire suppression systems function properly when needed. Also be sure to store backup media away from any combustible materials in a well-ventilated room.

Flood Protection

Protecting backup media from flood damage is crucial since water can easily destroy tapes, hard drives, and other media. According to FEMA, it’s important to keep backup power and fuel sources protected from flooding through elevation and barriers.

FEMA recommends elevating backup media and IT equipment at least one foot above the base flood elevation level as determined for your area [1]. Raised computer floors or equipment racks can be installed to lift IT infrastructure above potential flood levels.

Deploying water sensors connected to pumps and drainage systems is another effective flood protection strategy. The pumps can automatically activate to remove water if sensors detect a leak or flood event. This prevents water from reaching critical IT systems and backup media.

Storing backup media in watertight containers or waterproof safes provides an extra layer of protection. Offsite or cloud backups should also be maintained in case flood damage does occur to on-premise IT infrastructure.

Electromagnetic Protection

Electromagnetic interference (EMI) can corrupt data stored on backup media like tapes and hard drives. EMI is caused by electromagnetic radiation emitted from electrical devices and cables. Sources of EMI include motors, power cables, WiFi routers, and cell phones.

One method to protect backup media from EMI is using a Faraday cage. A Faraday cage is an enclosure made of a conductive material like aluminum or copper mesh. It blocks external EMI from reaching devices inside the cage. For backup storage, small Faraday cages can be used to store individual tapes or drives (Source).

Another technique is EMI shielding. This involves surrounding devices and cables with conductive materials to contain EMI. Foil, metal tapes, or spray-on coatings can shield backup devices when stored onsite. Shielding electronics, power supplies, and cabling helps prevent internally generated EMI (Source).

Organization System

To keep backup media organized, companies should implement clear labeling, inventory tracking, and check in/out procedures. Proper organization helps ensure media can be located and used when needed.

All backup media should be clearly labeled with unique identifiers like barcode or serial numbers. Labels should indicate details like the type of media, capacity, what data it contains, dates created and tested, and any security levels. A labeling convention should be established and followed consistently.

A detailed inventory of all backup media should be maintained, listing the unique identifier, type, contents, location, and other relevant info for each. This provides a quick reference to find and manage media assets. Regular audits should verify all media listed is accounted for.

Formal procedures for checking media in and out should be used to track custody and prevent loss. When new media is added, it gets checked in to the inventory system. When media is needed for restores or taken offsite, it gets checked out and signed for. Media checked out should have a defined time limit before follow up is required.

With diligent organization, companies can easily locate, swap, and reuse media as needed for reliable backups.

Testing and Maintenance

Performing periodic restoration tests is crucial to ensure your backup solution is working properly and data can be recovered when needed. Full restoration testing should be done at least annually, with more frequent testing of sample files or applications. This helps verify backup integrity and identify any issues like failed backups, corrupted data, or compatibility problems.1

Media rotation is also an important maintenance task. Backup media has a limited shelf life and will eventually fail, so tapes or disks should be retired and replaced with new media on a regular schedule. Industry best practices recommend rotating media annually. By regularly testing restores and rotating media, you can help ensure your backups remain reliable and usable when needed.23


In summary, properly storing backup media is crucial for protecting against data loss. The key factors to consider are:

  • Choosing on-site vs. off-site storage based on access needs and security risks.
  • Maintaining proper environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity and air quality.
  • Implementing physical security controls like access restrictions, surveillance and fire proofing.
  • Safeguarding against floods, fires and electromagnetic interference.
  • Organizing backup media systematically for easy retrieval.
  • Regularly testing backups and ensuring storage conditions are maintained.

Taking steps to properly store backup media reduces the chance of backup failure and data loss. With the risk of cyberattacks and natural disasters, viable backups are a crucial component of any organization’s business continuity plan. Investing in proper backup storage provides peace of mind and allows for recovery from worst-case scenarios.