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How to Migrate your Legacy Tapes to a New Backup Solution


The basics of tape migration and the questions that arise

Tape as an archive and data storage medium has been around for over 60 years now and it’s still widely used in companies of all sizes.  Tape has its advantages – durability and low cost compared to other media – but that can also be its drawback. Over the years companies tend to change tape formats, as well as tape backup solutions.

Due to regulatory and compliance requirements, these companies have to maintain functionality of the tapes, as well as the necessary hardware and backup software, to access the data held on them. This includes paying license fees for all of the different backup solutions necessary to read the tapes. Due to these reasons, many companies try to consolidate their various backup solutions into one solution and tapes into one format. This job is one of three different tasks related to migration – and it’s not as easy as one might initially think.  Before an administrator can begin, they have to plan ahead and consider the following: Do the tapes have the same format?  Do all of them use the same backup solution?  Are the tapes and the hardware still functional?

One question still remains: When the tape backup solution is changed, will the data be stored on tape again, or should this be changed to low-priced disk storage?  If the end result is tape, then it makes the most sense to move to the latest version available on the market, which at the moment is LTO-7.  The scenario would go something like this: The administrator gathers all the legacy backup tapes, consolidates and migrates the backup data from the legacy environment to the new backup vendor, and then stores the “new” legacy backup on the new tape format.

When such a project is finally accomplished, the end result is one unique tape based backup solution and one single tape format.  The legacy backup applications are no longer needed can be retired for good, along with their infrastructure and maintenance costs.

How does a backup solution migration typically work?   

Migrating data from an existing backup solution to another system will normally be done in the traditional way:  You have to access or create a full backup within the current system and compile all the data stored inside the tape library.  Next, when you’ve restored the data and archives on different storage space (usually located on disks from your local SAN/NAS), you have to build the new backup system (both hardware and backup software) from scratch, create the archive structure and then import the data into the new backup system.  Additionally, all necessary clients, policy details and schedules – as well as tape inventories and catalogs – have to be generated.

The most common solution to migrate your backups – whether it’s an older software package or a new version – is to use your existing backup to restore your data to a new location and re-backup using a different vendor’s solution. Even though there are some software solutions on the market which offer to “translate” settings and structure between two different solutions, it’s a timely and costly matter.  And if the process fails when using one of these software tools, it’s possible to damage or lose valuable data or settings. Additionally, backup software solutions use a special data format which compresses the data stored in the backup.  When the data structure is destroyed, it’s a difficult task to recover the backup structure as well as the data. It’s truly like finding a needle in a haystack.


As you can see, there is no such thing as a “typical” migration project. It’s likely to be a time consuming and costly task.  The decision for such a project should be based on the assumption that legacy data will need to be accessed at some point in the future. However, in some cases, it’s required by law, so the decision is simple.

If you’re thinking of migrating your tape backup solution and don’t want to go it alone, consider the specialized tape services from Kroll Ontrack.  We use standardized processes to successfully migrate existing backup and legacy archive systems to new environments without changing the integrity of the stored data and archive structure.


Picture copyright: Kroll Ontrack GmbH, Germany

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