Bacula’s Free Tape Backup Software Solution

Bacula’s Free Tape Backup Software Solution

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Even though disk and cloud backups have come a long way and improved a lot over the years, tape backup still remains an important part of the data structure for a lot of companies. Similarly,  there is still a lot of tape drive backup software as well. Most of tape’s advantages as a storage type is, by definition, hard to reproduce using other media, such as data density, portability, write speed, reliability, etc. Bacula’s free tape backup software works with practically all of the tape vendors, including different storage types and sizes, which increases the overall flexibility of this backup method for potential customers.

There’s a number of reasons why tape backup is still quite relevant and even popular. It’s true that disk storage is considered to be one of the prime tape alternatives, and for a good reason: good scalability, barely any maintenance, fast recovery time, more deduplication possibilities, and so on.

On the other hand, disks used as storage can easily be overwritten or deleted by accident, if we’re counting human error as a possibility. Various computer viruses can also target connected disk backup systems, too. Using disks for storing a serious amount of data might create additional upkeep costs, since the nature of the disk technology implies that a disk should be constantly running – that’s why you’ll need both more power to keep each of the disks going, as well as means of cooling this whole system to prevent data corruption through overheating.

Using cloud storage is also an option, but typically most of those cloud storage services are using the same disk systems to keep their data – your data, that’s why all of the disk problems still apply.

Tape is relatively old as a storage technology, but it is still a highly reliable storage alternative. One of the biggest advantages of tape is its storage size – one tape unit is capable of offering up to 30 TB data per unit (LTO-8 standard, and in the near future LTO-12 promises up to 480 TB per unit).

There’s also other advantages of tape, such as:

  • Price (one of the cheapest storage types on the market);
  • Offsite storage (allows to store a part of your data outside of your main building to avoid potential loss of the entire system via a natural disaster or other problems);
  • Lifespan (typically tape’s life is about 30 years if stored in correct conditions);
  • Resistance to cyberattacks (since the tape unit itself shuts down after the data has been received and has no need to be plugged in to keep the data intact).

Of course, tape as a means of storage isn’t perfect, either. For example, general recovery time is much longer than most of the other storage types due to the need to physically move your tape units to your main location or connect them to your system in any other way, and tape recorders themselves need specific conditions to remain operational for prolonged periods of time. Data search speed is quite low, as well, even though there’s some progress in that field (LTFS file system, for example) – the whole process is still slower than the rest.

Even though it’s not perfect, tape is still considered to be the best long-term data storage anyway, and Bacula’s vast tape features mean it  just might be the best tape drive backup software.

Aside from the tape advantages listed above, there’s a number of reasons why tape is still quite relevant as a backup storage type, even when many companies are moving their data to cloud in the first place:

  • Security – data encryption over tape, knowing where your data is stored physically;
  • Conversion – adding more storage types or moving existing data to other storage types is costly, and many companies either don’t want the additional expenses or don’t have the money to do that in the first place;
  • Durability – generally, a 30-year lifespan makes it the unquestionable leader in durability when compared to other means of storage;
  • Compliance – it’s easier to meet compliance laws by using tape for some companies (prime examples are legal institutions and banks);
  • Portability – even though it might not seem so, in comparison tape is still probably the easiest one to store.

There’s also a number of myths or misconceptions about tape backup solutions in general. Let’s go over the biggest ones so far.

  • Tape is easily replaceable as a storage type

A number of tape advantages is generally difficult to reproduce through other storage types, like storage capacity, cyberattack evasion through “offline” function capabilities, less costly storage terms, etc.

  • Tape drive backup software isn’t developing and there’s no future in it

Tape is currently used, one way or another, by a large number of companies and there’s also been growth in tape popularity that has been noticed in recent years, too. Tape manufacturers are still trying their best to improve tape as a storage type, including means of data encryption, data partition, general capacity improvements and so on.

  • Tape is outdated and generally old

Even though it’s not as popular as other means of storage, tape is the only media  that has avoided big swings in popularity throughout the years.

  • Tape is dead as a backup type

Tape might have been much more popular than it is nowadays,but for the lack of knowledge in the technology - which is the prime reason for this backup type to be avoided by some companies to begin with.

  • Tape backup solutions are ineffective

It’s not perfect, that’s for sure – nothing is, but tape is the best among others as a storage type for long-term data retention and offsite storage purposes. It’s especially effective as a part of the popular 3-2-1 rule – keeping three different data copies stored via two different types of storage and to have at least one copy stored offsite.

Generally speaking, tape isn’t dead, and Bacula’s free tape backup software is capable of working with practically all tape drives via basic OS calls (read, write, etc). The problem with that approach is that those commands need a proper OS tape driver to work properly. SCSI tape drives on Windows, Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris are tested and work perfectly with a Bacula environment, and other *nix machines are often supported, as well.

Newer tape drives with different interfaces (ATAPI, IDE, SATA) are on a case-by-case basis. For example, OnStream tape drive with OSST driver works well with both Linux and Bacula’s free tape backup software, and some of them work with Windows, as well.

Any modern tape drive (2010 and later) should work with Bacula’s tape drive backup software via the basic Bacula Device specification from bacula-sd.conf file.

Below we’ll provide a list of tape drives that are tested with Bacula (thanks to user feedback). It is worth noting that the feedback in general is very limited, so the list itself may not be exhaustive. If you find your drive on the list, be sure to test the tape itself before setting everything up to make sure that there will be no problems with the actual backup process.

OS Manufacturer Media Model Capacity
ADIC DLT Adic Scalar 100 DLT 100 GB
ADIC DLT Adic Fastor 22 DLT
FreeBSD 5.4-RELEASE-pl amd64 Certance LTO AdicCertance CL400 LTO Ultrium 2 200 GB
DDS Compaq DDS 2,3,4
SuSE 8.1 Pro Compaq AIT Compaq AIT 35 LVD 35/70 GB
HP Travan 4 Colorado T4000S
HP DLT HP DLT drives
HP LTO HP LTO Ultrium drives
IBM ?? 3480, 3480XL, 3490, 3490E, 3580, 3590 drives
FreeBSD 4.10 RELEASE HP DAT HP StorageWorks DAT72i
Overland LTO LoaderXpress LTO
Overland Neo2000
FreeBSD 4.11-Release Quantum SDLT SDLT320 160/320GB
- Quantum DLT DLT-8000 40/80GB
Linux Seagate DDS-4 Scorpio 40 20/40GB
FreeBSD 4.9 STABLE Seagate DDS-4 STA2401LW 20/40GB
FreeBSD 5.2.1 pthreads patched RELEASE Seagate AIT-1 STA1701W 35/70GB
Linux Sony DDS-2,3,4 - 4-40GB
Linux Tandberg - Tandbert MLR3 -
FreeBSD Tandberg - Tandberg SLR6 -
Solaris Tandberg - Tandberg SLR75 -

If you’re also interested in the enterprise-grade tape backup, check out Bacula Enterprise tape backup solution.

About the author

Rob Morrison

Rob Morrison started his IT career with Silicon Graphics in Switzerland, which developed into a wide variety of IT management roles for almost 10 years. He has subsequently held various management positions in professional open source companies such as JBoss, Red Hat and Pentaho, contributing to the growth of these well-known companies. He is a graduate of Plymouth University and holds an Digital Media and Communications BSc Honours degree, and completed an Overseas Studies Program.