Top Tips to Help Prevent Tape Drive Failure

Posted on 03-Apr-2012

Today’s tape drives are reliable, high-performance devices – designed for robust operation in demanding and high-use environments. With the right care and handling, and prompt attention to any issues, failures which significantly impact your operations should be few and far between.

To help prevent tape drive failure the best thing to do is to implement operational procedures that prevent problems from occurring to begin with. Some hardware failures are inevitable over the life of the tape but most systems should run with very few problems for a very long time.

Use the following steps from Spectra Logic as a guide to keeping your drive in top condition and help prevent tape drive failure.

1.      Operate the library in a clean environment

Dust and paper can shorten the life span of drive heads, therefore you should store your library in a place away from dust and other particles floating around in the air, as well as printers, scanners, fax machines, paper cutters and other machines which handle paper.

2.      Implement automated, request-based cleaning

Cleaning drives too frequently decreases the life span of the drive, therefore request-based cleaning (cleaning the drives when they indicate they need it) is recommended. Make sure that expired cleaning tapes are removed and discarded immediately.

3.      Store your tape drive within humidity and temperature specifications

Damage to the media can occur if debris settle into the magnetic layer of the tape. This is caused by high temperatures and humidity which increase the tightness of the wound tape. General temperatures and humidity recommendations are as follows:

Storage temperature: 16°C – 35°C

Storage humidity: (non condensing): 20% – 80%

Operating temperature: 10°C – 45°C

Operating humidity (non-condensing): 10% – 80%

Archival temperature: 16°C – 25°C

Archival humidity: 20% – 50%

4.       Acclimate tapes before use

When tapes are exposed to dramatic changes in temperature and humidity, molecules in the tape media expand and shrink. Therefore it is advised to avoid exposure to heat temperature and humidity changes. Storing tapes in data centre for 24 hours before putting them to use is recommended.

5.       Handle tapes properly

Handling tape carelessly is the number one cause of tape drive problems. Rough handling or vibration of tapes can damage edges or dislodge leader pins. Therefore it is advised to take care when unpacking, importing/exporting, or transporting tapes.

6.       Inspect tape media before inserting it into the library

Take the following actions before tape use:

- Ensure barcode labels are in good shape and correctly applied to be read correctly

- Ensure barcode labels are secure to prevent loading/unloading problems and having them come off in the drive or library

- Check leader pins are seated correctly to prevent loading/unloading failures

7.       Retire tapes when they have reached the end of their life

Even if the tapes are in good working order, retiring tapes at the end of their life will keep you from storing data to a low-quality tape.

8.       Retire tapes with high error rates

A tape should be removed from service if it starts having high read/write error rates even if it hasn’t reached its lifetime number of passes. It should be discarded when it is no longer needed for restores.

9.       Use the software to move tapes

Inventory mismatches and move failures occur when tapes are moved between slots and drives from the library front panel because the software is unaware that these moves occurred. Once the system is up and running, the front panel of the library should be used only for physically removing tapes from the library.

10.   Test backups for recoverability on a regular basis

It should be standard operating procedure to run sample restores before vaulting tapes, to ensure the data was stored correctly. You should also keep a record of your back up environment’s configuration parameters – including device files used, block sizes etc. Having to recreate these after a disaster can significantly delay recovery time.

11.   Attend to all problems right away

If one bad drive is left in the library it can cause problems with other drives. Therefore, if the library, host, or backup software reports an error with a tape or a drive it should be looked into immediately.

12.   Make only one change at a time

It’s important to try and make only one change at a time even though it can be time consuming to bring the backup system offline for maintenance and upgrades. That way if  the systems behaviour changes you know where to look.

13.   Collect information when failures occur

If you have a failure (especially if you suspect a hardware or media problem) it’s important to urgently collect log files from the system, the software, and the library. Generally these types of files overwrite themselves with new information over time so it’s recommended to do this as soon as possible to avoid losing key information.

Read the full Spectra Logic white paper Tapes without Pain to get full detail on how to troubleshoot problems with your tape drive. Find it here:

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