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I'm contemplating an auto-loading tape drive as part of a backup strategy. This would be my first experience with tape backup. The cost-effectiveness of tape drives seems to depend on the assumption that they will provide many years of service. I'm having a difficult time assessing how many years of service to expect from a tape drive, however. They've got lots of moving and wearing parts to break, which implies that they ought to be repairable; but the product literature doesn't say much about repairs. Specifically, I'm looking for an answer to the following questions:

  1. Is it common to repair failing auto-loading tape drives? If so, who typically does the repairs? (manufacturer, third-party, in-house?) Also, how available are spare parts?
  2. If they're not commonly repaired, how do I assess how long a tape drive might last?
  3. Are there some brands or lines of auto-loading tape drives that are more reliable or serviceable than others?

Background: I'm mainly basing my understanding of tape drive maintenance on my experience with laser printers. Some entry-level printers are clearly not worth repairing at all. On the other hand, I'm still maintaining a few LaserJet 4V printers that are relatively straightforward to repair. I'm wondering where auto-loading tape drives fit on that spectrum.

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I think you're asking the wrong question -- "Do tape drive fail?" Sure. Everything fails, especially under heavy use. Like @ewwhite said, that's why you get brand-name gear with good warranties. The Right Question for you to ask is "Is there a better alternative to tape, given my needs and environment?" –  voretaq7 Mar 26 '13 at 17:24
    
@voretaq7 There's already lots of Q&A about tape v. its alternatives: This, this, and this are only three of many examples. Those only tangentially provide insight into the life expectancy of tape drives. I'd say the answers provided here are a pretty good data point for determining the amortization of a tape drive. That's new info for serverfault.com and is key to answering your proposed question. –  alx9r Mar 26 '13 at 21:25
    
This is true, but you will get vastly different numbers from vastly different environments. I've worked with tape drives that have been in service for 10 years and still work perfectly, and I've seen brand new LTO drives with a string of failures. The reasons to switch to something other than tape often have very little to do with mechanical failure, and everything to do with not wanting to have to change tapes :-) –  voretaq7 Mar 27 '13 at 0:01
    
@voretaq7 I get your point. –  alx9r Mar 27 '13 at 1:51
    
One very nasty failure mode with some tape technologies is that drives can fail in a way that they can still read and write a tape fine ... which no other drive can read anymore. –  rackandboneman Mar 28 '13 at 12:33
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

These devices fail and certainly have a finite life.

I've deployed a few of the HP 1/8 Autoloader units in SAS and SCSI variants. You're correct in the assumption that lots of moving parts increases complexity and creates opportunities for failure.

  • The tape drive module on the 1/8 autoloader is field-replaceable. I've had five of them fail across 20 units.
  • I've also had issues with the robotic mechanisms...
  • Keep firmware up-to-date.
  • Run cleaning tapes every so often.
  • The autoloader units have a web interface and logging. Pay attention to errors.
  • If you purchase, be sure to buy an HP Care Pack warranty uplift or make sure you have 3+ years of support.
  • Traditional LTO tape drives tend to die after 3-4 years of regular use in my environments.
  • The autoloader units failed sooner than that.
  • There are only a few firms who manufacture the drive mechanisms. These are all usually Quantum-built, so in reality, none is better than the other.
  • Don't expect to self-service any of this. That's why you're buying brand-name gear. Make proper use of the warranty.
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+1 Tandberg also manufactures LTO drives. Pretty sure nobody else does. –  Chris S Apr 7 at 13:58
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My experience is with the Dell TL2000 and 124T. The TL2000 is still running strong and coming up on 3 years, but once the warranty runs out I will replace it or extend the warranty. The 124T would die every year or two and we would have Dell come out to replace it. I'm looking forward to transitioning to removable disk backups for off-site storage once I can find one that is compatible with Data Protection Manager. Make sure you get a good warranty and plan to keep it under warranty.

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Auto Loading TAP Drive is a good tool to backup but it requires continuous maintenance, some companies stopped producing the same, and some are continuing, so confirm that with your Tape drive,

Tapes are automatically moves in heavy machine, so if its weary/moving parts, get it fixed by its expert so the working will not be affected, as the data on the TAPE is significantly important to the company. So make sure the working do not disturb, weary parts if affects magnetic tape within the TAPE, then its red alert. you must get it corrected/ repaired before its too late.

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In my experience (based on LTO4 drives), burn-in of new media is number one factor wearing down drives. In other words lifetime did not depend on how many hours of operation the drive had, but rather on how many times you had put a brand new media in the drive. (Things may have improved during the three years passed since I last worked with tape drives.)

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