Storage Lifespan FAQs

Know the Storage Lifespans of Your Archival Data Cartridges

Archival backups can provide crucial protection from ransomware attacks and other disasters. There’s just one issue: For the backups to be useful, they need to be in readable condition. That’s not always guaranteed.

Most data tape formats can reliably store information for decades — but improper storage conditions can significantly limit their lifespan. Without duplicate backups, an archive can become unusable over time. To prevent a disaster, businesses need to check backups regularly and duplicate older archives to newer formats (or simply create additional copies of mission-critical media).

To make sure your data is safe, you’ll need to determine the storage lifespan of your data cartridges and plan appropriately. Here’s a look at the lifespans of some of the most popular tape formats.

An important caveat: Many factors can affect storage lifespans and library management decisions, which we’ll discuss for each format. Additionally, some tape drive manufacturers avoid providing guaranteed life expectancies; to provide accurate information, we used primary resources where possible, along with third-party research.

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LTO Data Cartridge Life Expectancy

LTO Lifespan: 30+ years.

Factors to Consider: LTO cartridges offer numerous advantages over other formats. As of when this article was written, LTO-8 is the most recent generation and boasts a compressed storage capacity of 30 terabytes with a compressed transfer rate of 750 MB/sec.

Most manufacturers estimate that LTO tapes will provide dependable data storage for 15-30 years. However, LTO archives require precise storage conditions. Slight deviations in temperature or humidity can affect storage life. Ideally, LTOs should be stored at 61 to 77°F (16 to 25°C).

To maintain reliable backups, businesses should consider duplicating older LTO tapes. Migrating tapes to new formats is always prudent; while LTO tape drives are backwards-compatible for two generations (for instance, an LTO-5 drive can read LTO-4 and LTO-3 tapes), it’s important to pay attention to obsolescence and plan accordingly.

DLT Data Tape Life Expectancy

DLT Lifespan: 50+ years.

Factors to Consider: For years, DLTs were the standard for archival storage, and with good reason: The tapes resist degradation, and both DLT media and tape drives remain relatively inexpensive. In one environmental stability study, DLTs and SDLTs exhibited greater life expectancies than all other cartridges, with significant resistance to environmental factors.

However, the DLT format is essentially obsolete, as drive manufacturer Quantum has shifted focus to higher capacity formats. As such, DLT and Super DLT (SDLT) archives should be migrated to LTO or another format.

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DDS & DAT Data Tape Life Expectancy

DDS Lifespan: 10+ years.

Factors to Consider: Based upon the Digital Audio Tape (DAT) format, DDS offered a storage capacity of up to 600 gigabytes. The format is largely obsolete, but is still occasionally used for archival storage.

DDS cartridges were inexpensive, but as with other formats, the cartridges are susceptible to changes in humidity or temperature. Additionally, many DDS drives were not backwards-compatible with previous generations. The last generation of DDS was released in 2009, so businesses should migrate DDS media to a newer format (such as LTO or TS1160) to ensure that older archives remain accessible.

AIT & SAIT Data Tape Life Expectancy

AIT/SAIT Lifespan: 30+ years.

Factors to Consider: AIT and SAIT tapes are largely obsolete, but the formats were widely used for several decades. Many AIT drives were both backwards- and forwards-compatible, and the final generation (SAIT-2) offered a native capacity of 800 gigabytes (1.3 terabytes compressed) with relatively fast read speeds.

AIT and SAIT tapes have a lifespan comparable to modern LTO tapes, but with the same susceptibility to environmental factors. Because newer AIT/SAIT hardware is rare and expensive, these cartridges should be converted to newer formats to prevent data loss and to allow for quicker access to archives.

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TS1160 Data Tape Life Expectancy

TS1160 Lifespan: 30+ years.

Factors to Consider: The IBM TS1160 is intended as a competitor for LTO, with a compressed storage capacity of up to 60 terabytes and compressed transfer rates of up to 900 MB/sec. The TS1160 drive is backwards-compatible with TS155 and TS1150 media.

All high-density storage is susceptible to environmental factors, and as with the LTO, the TS1160 drive and media require appropriate conditions. IBM recommends an operating environment of 60° F to 90° F (16° to 32° C) with a relative humidity of 20 to 80 percent non-condensing.

As with other current-generation formats, TS1160 cartridges should be checked regularly. Older tapes should be cycled out, and mission-critical backups should be duplicated to ensure reliability.

My data cartridges are older than their rated lifespan. Are they still useful?

Potentially. At Total Data Migration, we’ve restored data from early reel-to-reel systems and archives kept in extreme heat and humidity. While the safest course of action is to build a reliable backup schedule and maintain an appropriate storage environment, you should never assume that older tape archives are unreadable.

Modern data recovery technologies can restore some older tapes, provided that the actual tape retains its magnetization. In some cases, accessing cartridges with well-maintained tape drives can restore usable data. No two archives are the same, and actual storage life expectancies vary greatly due to dozens of factors.

Total Data Migration offers an extensive set of services to restore, migrate, or recover from virtually any cartridge format. We maintain a library of modern and legacy devices, and by maintaining strict chain-of-custody, we can securely handle tapes to meet your organization’s goals.

Whether you’re recovering from a disaster or planning to prevent long-term data loss, our experts can provide essential guidance. Contact us at (800) 460-7599 or email us to get started.

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In a fast-paced world, no business has time to deal with out-of-date legacy systems to retrieve valuable data. Instead, it is imperative to the growth of your business that you have the data safely recovered, restored, and migrated to media types that are safe, accessible, and cost-effective.

TDM, offering global tape-based data restoration services and global data restoration support, is here to help your business make the transition to modern data storage systems. If you are in need of tape-based data restoration, we urge you to reach out to an experienced member of our team. We would love to discuss our data recovery and migration solutions with you, as well as how they can benefit your business.

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