A Best Practices Checklist for Backup Tapes

What does it take to build a fail-safe backup system? Think of a pilot, who runs through a printed list of pre-flight safety checks before takeoff. Likewise, you should have an easily accessible best practice guide for your company’s data backup and recovery plans. An optimum guide not only removes guesswork but maintains consistency in crucial areas. It should help you:

  • Define a backup system that lets you grab business-critical data when you need it
  • Measure your system’s performance, and plan ways to make consistent improvements
  • Identify what data to back up and for how long, so you can eventually erase unneeded information
  • Boost your company’s overall performance by eliminating time-consuming questions or debates about your data backup strategy.

The best place to start is by setting up a comprehensive master plan that covers how to prepare, store and quickly access your crucial information. Once you have done that you need to provide for regular testing and updates.

With the right system in place, you can ensure that backups are handled consistently and correctly, and that business-critical data is easy to find and recover.

Creating an effective Backup System

1. Understand the Backup Tape Lifecycle

Whilst backup tapes might seem like a slightly antiquated concept to the average digital consumer, data professionals in the know view them very differently. To them, tape remains a vital and hugely practical form of storage and backup. Most important of all, when used correctly tape is highly secure from outside tampering or hacking.

But putting offsite backup tapes to work for your organisation involves much more than merely sending newly created tapes to an archive and retrieving the old ones you need. It may help by thinking of the backup system as two cycles, one for outbound data and one for inbound.

You’ll need to follow the steps of the outbound cycle carefully to ensure your records’ security and integrity:

  1. Eject each backup tape when it’s finished. Verify that it has been ejected correctly. Replace all the ejected tapes. Do a count to make sure you have the right number of tapes and that they’re ready to be transported.
  2. Create an electronic list of all the tapes being moved. Doing this helps the recipient verify the delivery. Store your media in a container designed for safe transport.
  3. Before the vendor picks up your information, cross check the tapes against your electronic list. Make sure your containers are correctly marked as part of a system that identifies anyone making direct contact with their contents.
  4. Store media being sent out in a climate-controlled environment. From this point on, only your designated partner should be handling these materials.

Potentially you are at your most vulnerable when data is leaving your facility. Always verify that you’re handing your data to a trusted representative by asking for a Personal Identification Number and a photo ID.

You'll also need to plan for the inbound data cycle, when your backup partner returns media to you. It’s crucial that physical media is handled in a structured, consistent manner:

  1. Receive tapes in the same secure and climate-controlled area where you store your outbound data. Before unloading anything, verify receipt of all expected tapes.
  2. Organise your incoming tapes on a rack designed to store and protect them.
  3. Send electronic pick lists to your offsite storage partner when you haven’t previously specified return dates.

2. Gather Your Talent

A crucial element of best practice is controlling employee access. Create an authorisation list and review it regularly to make sure that the right employees are on it. Stay on top of any personnel changes, and make sure to revoke authorisation immediately for any transferred or terminated members of staff.

You’ll also need to plan for recovery. Grant a minimum of two employees administrative rights to the backup and recovery system, then designate an additional two people to manage recovery in the aftermath of a disaster.

3. Anticipate Potential Problems Before They Occur

Mistakes can certainly happen. However, a solid set of best practices will minimise them, whilst helping you identify and correct errors quickly.

Streamline the process by using automated technology that lets you and your information storage provider compare outbound and inbound deliveries. Your system should include bar-coded identification so that scanning devices can track media as it moves from place to place. Create a system to log and track any discrepancies.

4. Test Recovery Procedures Again... And Then Again

No matter how strong and secure your system, digital information can be corrupted. The best protection against such setbacks is a set of best practices for recovering troubled data. As part of this process, only send tapes for storage that back up data contained in your onsite servers. Also, conduct regular spot checks. Make sure that data is being transferred to stored media correctly, that all the data needed for a full recovery is available offsite, and that you can access it on demand.

The process of creating an offsite backup and recovery system comprises many moving parts. Invest the time and resources to assemble them correctly, and you’ll gain priceless peace of mind about your backup procedure, and almost anything that can happen with it along the way.

For further information on data backup and recovery, you can read our Knowledge Centre stories on the subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected to a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can answer any specific questions.