The storage of off-site data is also known as vaulting as backups are stored in purpose built vaults. (1)


The storage of off-site data is also known as vaulting as backups are stored in purpose built vaults. (1)

Typical Storage Media:

Over time, media storage capacities have increased while physical sizes have dramatically decreased. The following is a list of the most common formats, and is not intended to be exhaustive. For more illustrations, dimensions and specifications, click here to read PC Magazine’s online encyclopedia reference. (2)

  • QIC Tape
  • SLR Data Cartridges
  • DAT 4mm Tape
  • Exabyte 8mm Tape
  • AIT 8mm Tape
  • SAIT 1/2 Tape
  • DLT / SDLT Tape
  • IBM 3480
  • IBM 3490
  • IBM 3590 (Magstar)
  • IBM Magstar MP
  • Ultrium – LTO
  • Redwood
  • DV / MiniDV
  • DST cassette
  • DTF Cassette
  • DIR Cassette
  • Open Reel Tape 1/2″
  • Pereos Tape



Poor handling of magnetic media can lead to damage and data loss. Different media and manufacturers may have different transportation guidelines. The following is to serve as a general rule of thumb, and were gleaned from IBM 3590 guidelines (3).

Do not carry loose cartridges in a box or tray.
Carefully inspect dropped cartridges before use.
Avoid moisture and direct sunlight.
Avoid stray magnetic fields greater than 100 oersteds, such as those near high voltage cables and power supplies.
Transport with the tape reel in vertical position (like a book on end in a bookcase). They can be laid on their side, but only temporarily.
Seal it in a moisture-proof bag, then ship in a suitable shipping container with plenty of packing material.
Consider using a container designed for cartridges, such as a Turtle brand container, manufactured by the Perm-A-Store company, contained within an overpack box.
Do not drop the cartridge, as it can damage the outer case, alter alignment of the reel or cause tape to slide, or damage the leader block.
Keep the reel vertical, like a book standing on a bookshelf.
Avoid temperature extremes – Do not let the tape sit in a hot vehicle for too long.
Use a container (preferably one designed for containing cartridges, like Turtle brand containers) to secure the cartridge, insulate it from temperature extremes, and protect it from accidental shock.


Click to view a summary of guidelines for magnetic media storage


  • Full Backup – All files on the system are backed up completely, on one cartridge or multiple “daisy-chained” cartridges. This uses the most storage capacity.
  • Differential Backup – Backup of only those files or pieces of data that have changed since the more recent backup. This requires less storage capacity.
  • Modified Backup – Backup of files or pieces of data that have changed since either the most recent differential or most recent full backup.

Attempts to maximize retention of vital data, reduce the time gap between backup and current data, and minimize cartridge costs / handling time. Following are common strategies(4), but you should create a strategy that meets your unique needs.

  • Incremental Backup – Using daily backup on 15 tapes as an example; one backup tape is used each day, providing a daily record for 15 days. On the 16th day, the first backup tape (oldest) is overwritten, and so on.
  • Grandfather-Father-Son – Defines three sets of backups; Daily, weekly, monthly for example. The daily (son) backup tapes are rotated daily, with the last day of the week being archived as the weekly (father), which are then rotated weekly until the last day of the month, when it becomes the monthly (grandfather) backup.
  • Tower of Hanoi – A more complex method using an algorithmic approach.
  • Incremented Media – A fixed group of numbered cartridges (ex. 10) is used for backing up – one each day in this example. When the 10th cartridge has been used, cartridge #1 is stored permanently. A new cartridge is added to the 9 from the previous cycle, then a new cycle is started using them. The oldest tape from the second cycle is stored permanently, another cartridge is added, and the cycle repeats.



Generally refers to services offered by a commercial off-site storage company. These services may include scheduled pickup of your backup tape(s), entering identifying information into a inventory database (sometimes using barcodes), placing in a secured and climate-controlled media vault, pulling backup tape(s), returning media to you for use again, and identifying the cartridge as “out”. The service can be requested as needed, or scheduled to occur automatically.



Recent news headlines underscore the need to responsibly care for corporate data and private information. Following are top considerations.

  • Proper storage conditions – Magnetic media is susceptible to temperature fluctations and levels, moisture, humidity fluctuations and levels, air pollutants, and magnetic fields. A burst water pipe, runaway heat source, HVAC failure, company fire, and uneven air flow can all be to blame.
  • Storage area construction – Aside from proper racking and physical security, critical media should be placed in a well-constructed vault. Falling ceiling, failing floors or walls, poorly placed water sources, broken windows and more should be avoided.
  • Employee theft – The storage area should be locked, with limited authorized access.
  • Encryption – Simple data encryption methods can keep sensitive information from being altered, damaged or stolen.
  • Secure transportation – Whether stored on-site or off-site, reasonable measures should be taken when transporting vital data.
  • Geographic separation – Possibly the most valuable security method, storing critical data off-site adds a layer of protection from theft, natural disaster, or vandalism. In the event of a company disaster, data tapes are pulled from off-site storage and the recovery process begins.



If you can’t retrieve the data on a tape, it is useless for recovering your business. The cost of proper storage is far less than the cost of avoidable data loss or theft.

  • Proper construction – Walls are supported by foundation, not other walls. Contained within a structure, not a standalone building or portable. No water pipes, natural gas pipes, or sewer pipes within the vault. No water source above the vault.
  • Temperature / humidity control – Set to remain within acceptable limits with only minor fluctuations.
  • Fire rating – Walls, floor, ceiling and door are properly fire-rated.
  • Access – Locked entrance, with limited authorized access.
  • Geographic separation – From your company, from disaster-prone areas, from the elements.

Bare Metal Data – Trade Association –
PRISM International – Trade association of commercial records storage industry –

Media Vaults

The Only Place For Critical Data.

Backing up to data tape is simply not enough these days. Legislation compliance and business continuity plans demand that the tape is protected, accessible, and that the data is recoverable.

Underground Vaults and Storage offers media vaults to meet those demands.

Dramatically reduces risks due to natural disaster, facility fire / disaster, employee fraud or civic unrest.

Our wholly-owned and bonded courier fleet offers economical tape rotation services. You have 24/7/365 access to information.

Custom media vaults are available to suit your temperature, humidity, filtration, and access needs. These provide complete privacy within our facilities.

Sources Cited: 

(1) “Off-site Data Protection.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 17 Sep 2006, 23:51 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 Sep 2006



(2) “Magnetic Tape Summary” PCMAG.COM 29 Sep 2006, 08:31 UTC. The Computer Language Company, Inc. 29 Sep 2006



(3) “IBM TotalStorage Enterprise Tape System 3590 Operator’s Guide” Sep 2004. International Business Machines Corporation.



(4) “Backup rotation scheme.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 Jul 2006, 15:20 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 Sep 2006



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