FCC is a LITTLE out of date WRT its backup designs

The FCC gives discounts to schools and libraries if they want to buy a tape-based backup system, but not if they want to use disk or any type of cloud-based architecture.

No, this is not me saying this is an example of how tape is better.  It’s me, an American citizen expressing frustration at how inefficient my government is — at least in this case.

For those (like me) who don’t live in this world, here’s what I’m talking about.  According to their website, “The Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, commonly known as “E-Rate,” is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and provides discounts to assist most schools and libraries in the United States to obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.”

If you download the list of things that are eligible for the E-rate program, you will find that “tape backup” is eligible, but Online Backup Solutions are specifically not eligible.  There is no mention of disk-based backup devices.  Here’s the best part.  Tape backup is defined as “QIC, DAT, 8mm, DLT, AIT, and ADR.” ADR was end-of-lifed 9 years ago, QIC & AIT were EOLd 3 years ago.  Note that their is no mention of LTO, a device that was released 12 years ago and currently owns 90% of the market.  So to say that the FCC is a bit behind the times is an overstatement.

By the way, they also list floppy disks and CD-Rs as the only examples of removable storage.  No mention of DVDs or BluRays — and when was the last time you saw a floppy drive?

Thanks to Christina Weil (@c_weil) for pointing this out via Twitter.

Amazing, just amazing.

Update (3/22): This program is aimed at getting schools and libraries connected.  So I’ve been told that the network parts of this document are mostly up to date.  The only reason backup is in the document in the first place is to help ensure that the connectivity systems remain available and connected.  What I think happened is that the network vendors knew about this program and made sure their parts got updated, and the tape/storage folks have ignored it (or not know about it).

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More misinformation about backups

I don’t care if you use disk, tape, or the cloud to back up your systems.  (In case you think I’m swayed by advertising, I have advertisers from all of those categories.)

Having said that, it bothers me when I see misinformation being used to sway you one way or the other.  This is why I wrote this article that disproved the Gartner 71% tape failure “quote,” and this article disproving the Yankee Group 42% failure “quote.”  And since he used my comment system to link to his article, I also thought I’d write this blog article dispelling the misinformation in the article he linked to.

He said it’s been a long time since people have seen tape used for backups. 

The live survey of the hundreds of attendees to last year’s Backup Central Live shows showed that 82% of them still use tape as their final destination for backups.  So much for not seeing tape in a while.

He said IT pros are still skeptical that removable drives have a legitimate place in backup

Yes, we are.  I think that 3.5″ removable disk drives are a very bad place for backups. 2.5″ drives yes, 3.5″ drives, not so much.  They’re simply not designed for excessive portability.  Adding to that is this fact:  every portable hard drive I have ever used for backing up my laptop has died long before the drive it was backing up.  Every single one.

He said cloud backup is shiny and new and that’s why people are choosing it.

No, it’s because it’s a complete and total outsourcing of backup functionality.  Backups can be onsite and offsite without ever touching a disk drive or tape drive.  AND you will be constantly notified if your backups are working or not working.  You often even get notified even if you shut off all your backups!  That’s not the case with any backup software product that I’ve ever used.  There are a lot of reasons to use cloud backup over removable disk drives or tape.  In fact, there are so many that I strongly recommend cloud backup for small to medium sized companies.

He said disk is cheaper for small companies

Yes, it is.  It is cheaper to acquire the drives as long as you never need to add capacity.  If you do, however, need to add capacity, disk costs will double.  Tape costs will not.  It’ll cost you about $.02/GB to add more capacity to a tape-based system.  (Having said that, I do not recommend backing up directly to tape; I haven’t in a while.)  Having said that, I priced a slightly different tape-based system than the one he quoted in his article, and it was approximately the same cost.

As to comparing their 10-bay disk systems against an autoloader, I don’t see how you can do that.  Backup software products simply don’t know what to do with 10 removable disk drives, but they do not what to do with autoloaders.  (I’m sure he knows a backup software product that will work his configuration, but I don’t know of one.)

He said disk is more reliable than tape

Baloney.  I’ve written about this before.  Tape has a much higher reliability rate than SATA disk — one hundred times more reliable.  I’ve already shown above that the statistics he quotes in his article are bunk.  Almost every failure I’ve ever seen with restores was the fault of anything but the media that was being used.  (I still don’t think tape should be used as the initial target for backups, but it is a very reliable place to put the second copy.)

He said LTO-5 speed is 140 MB/s, but only with compression

Sorry, Charlie.  That’s the native speed.  It’s up to 280 MB/s with compression.  With the 1.5:1 I see all the time, it’s 210 MB/s easy.  Having said that, it’s very hard to feed data to a drive that fast.  This is why I don’t recommend tape as the initial target for backups.  But if you’ve already made a copy on disk, you should have no problem streaming that tape drive.

He said single file restores are faster from disk

Yes, they are.  That extra minute it takes the tape to load and get to the single file would probably put most companies out of business.  Seriously, you’re going to make a case out of a minute of tape loading time?

He said upgrading/replacing is cheaper with disk

Are you kidding me?  I addressed this already.  If you need more capacity than the initial purchase, it’s much cheaper to expand a tape system. Most customers go years without upgrading their drives.

He said doing synthetic fulls is easier on disk

Yes, it is.  And CDP and CDP-like tech is also only possible on disk.  Disk has a lot of things going for it.

He said tape has to be replaced more often

Again, baloney.  A tape that is used once a week will last four years with the chart quoted in the article.  That is longer than most disks I’ve used.


I don’t recommend using tape as the initial target for backups, but I still think it’s a great place to put the next copy.  And if you are a smaller company, I think the best thing you can do is to use a cloud backup service that totally automates everything, and alllows for a local copy of your data.  But I think that any backup system that requires small companies to manually swap removable media just to make backups happen is a bad idea.

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Yankee Group never said 42% of tape restores fail

I just wrote a blog post about how Gartner never said that 71% of tape restores fail.  They never said anything like it.  Another statistic that is often quoted is "The Yankee Group said that 54% of tape restores fail."  Guess what?  They never said that, either.

What they did say in a 2004 paper is that 40.7% of 362 IT executives believed that they had suffered at least one restore failure in the previous year due to tape unreliability.  That's not even close to saying htat 42% of all tape restores fail, but who need truth, right?

Also, I'd like to throw out that these were IT executives.  What this stat really means is that 40.7% of them were told that they had restores that failed in the previous years due to bad tapes.  That's not quite the same thing as it actually happening.  How many backup people even know that the reason for their failure is their own misconfiguration?  And if they did, how many of them would admit that to their boss, rather than saying "the dang tape failed again."

Now the only statistic left is the Strategic Research one, but I can't find anything on that one.

It appears that at least 66% of all tape statistics are made up. 😉

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Gartner never said 71% of tape restores fail

How many times have you read that Gartner said 71% of tape restores fail?  Google it.  You’ll find dozens of references to this Gartner “statistic.”  It was cited again recently in an article by Highly Reliable Systems, along with a bunch of other stats about how tape sucks. I saw Dave Russell of Gartner last week and asked him about this statistic.  He said he had never heard it, but that he would look into it.  It turns out that the only way he could find it was to Google it.  He searched Gartner’s entire archive and could find no paper that ever suggested at 71% failure rate for tape restores.

He said, “I am somewhere between annoyed and pretty darn angry about what I believe are continued misquotes re. Gartner and tape failure rates.  I’ve been the lead analyst for backup and recovery technologies since 2005, and none of what’s out there have been published during my watch.”  The only report that referenced tape and the number 71% was a report David did in March of 2006.  Here is what it said:

New, and less-expensive, disk options make the use of disk for faster recovery a more viable option than backup to tape. In a poll of 252 attendees at the 2005 Gartner PlanetStorage conference, 26 percent reported that half or more of their recoveries were currently done from disk. That number jumped to 62 percent when the time frame was extended to 2007. As they look five years into the future to 2010, 71 percent expect that tape will be used mostly for archiving and disaster recovery.

I did a bunch of web searches for “Gartner 71% tape restores fail,” and found that if I search for those words prior to March of 2006, I don’t find much.  I do find an article from Jon Toigo in 2005 that says he hears IT people quoting a 10% failure rate from Gartner, but he believes that number is fictitous (which it probably was.)  I also find a whitepaper from Exabyte that refers to a 2002 article from Adam Couture of Gartner Group.  I just asked David Russell to see if he can find that article.  I also found another whitepaper from Tandberg citing similar numbers and the same paper.  Maybe that one has some basis in reality.  Most interestingly, I did find this page which claims to be the text of a Feb 2003 article from Computer Technology Review that says that “A recent study [it doesn’t cite the study] found that while tape backups are used extensively, restoring data from a tape backup system fails an astounding 70 percent of the time. The reasons for such an alarming rate of failure range significantly–and may vary from bad tapes or tape drives to the inability to find the backup tapes or careless processing by IT staff.”  (My experience has been it’s been far more careless processing by IT staff than bad tapes.)

The important thing is that prior to March of 2006, a Google search shows no references to Gartner thinking that 71% of tape restores fail.  Then David Russell wrote his report in March of 2006 that said that “71 percent expect that tape will be used mostly for archiving and disaster recovery.”  If you change your Google search to the year after his paper came out, you find a bunch of quotes to the 71%, the first of which comes from this DPM Datasheet from Microsoft — promoting DPM.  Then all of the sudden, the floodgates are open and everyone is quoting this number — no one (including Microsoft) actually giving their source, other than simply saying “Gartner said it.”  Most of them also seem to quote the Yankee Group (saying 42%) and Strategic Research (54%).  I wonder if they ever said what these articles say they said. 

Another quote I’ve seen is this: “according to Ben Matheson, group product manager for Microsoft’s “Data Protection Manager” Division,  42% of attempted recoveries from tape backups in the past year have failed.”  (BTW, please note that this is the same number as the Yankee Group number above, so maybe he was just quoting that number) I saw this in an article updated last week. According to LinkedIn, Ben Matheson hasn’t worked for Microsoft since February of 2006, so that quote can’t be correct either.  But once you’ve got a great quote, why let it go?  Wait, I may have found our Gartner quote culprit. Let’s see, Ben Matheson leaves Microsoft as its DPM product manager in February of 2006.  The new person took over shortly thereafter.  The next month a Gartner paper is written, and within two months we have the Microsoft DPM product group citing it incorrectly.  Could it have been a new gung-ho product manager misquoting Gartner?  Then everyone else starts quoting Gartner by quoting this Microsoft paper.  Next thing you know it, it’s real!  (This is just conjecture, of course. Don’t sue me, person who took over from Ben Matheson.)

So what?

We all know tape backups and restores, fail, right?  Who cares if no one at Gartner said it?  The first reason is truth.  This statistic is cited so often that it has been accepted as truth, and it isn’t.

The second reason is that you can’t debate the truth of a fake report. If it was a real report, we could check the stats behind the stat, and see how many of these “tape restore failures” were caused by human error and had nothing to do with the fact that they were using tape.   But since there never was any report, we can’t do such a thing.

Please, people.  Don’t quote third parties like that if you can’t cite the source.  It’s too easy to misquote.

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