You can protect your hardware and software with service contracts and insurance policies, but the only way to protect your data from catastrophe is by backing it up. When you consider tape backup solutions, you have a plethora of choices. However, sifting through them can be difficult and time-consuming.

In the past few years, vendors have increased the number of hard disks they install in workstations and servers. In the Windows NT Magazine Lab, we've seen workstations with five 9GB hard disks installed in a RAID configuration and servers with four times as many hard disks. Many tape manufacturers produce 8GB uncompressed tape drives; obviously, you need many of these tape drives to back up such large systems.

Windows NT server and workstation storage capacities continue to increase exponentially every year, so tape devices that can store more data on individual tapes are more important than ever before. Whether you work for a small to midsized company or a departmental workgroup within a large enterprise, you need to look at midrange tape backup solutions. If you back up between 20GB and 500GB of data regularly, you need a flexible, reliable, and scalable solution that fits your budget. If your primary need is blazing backup speed, and money is no object, you might consider a high-end system. Vendors optimize tape solutions in this category for high transfer rates, high access speed, and compatibility with robotic equipment. Typical transfer rates are several megabytes per second, and pricing for these drives starts at approximately $5000.

Looking for Mr. GoodTape
Factors to consider when you purchase a tape backup unit include the amount of data you need to back up, whether your backup software supports the unit, and the amount of money you want to spend. You also need to consider the value of your data: Put a price tag on your data and on the time you'd need to rebuild the data if you lost it. Be willing to spend as much money on a tape unit as you calculate your data to be worth.

Some units in the buyer's guide support multiple tape formats, and others support only one format. You need to determine the maximum backup window you have and choose a unit that provides the technology you need to back up and restore data within that time period. For example, some products use optical disk, which is a great solution for Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) but a terrible one for backing up large amounts of data quickly.

If you plan to use a certain software backup product, you need to research the tape backup units the product supports.

Tape devices are known for their long-lasting performance between hardware failures, which is partly attributable to the reliable tape drives and robotics that most systems include. Despite this reliability, you should research a vendor's service contract to ensure that the contract includes same-day on-site or overnight cross-shipping service if the unit fails.

Fierce competition in the tape backup arena has created an abundance of performance claims. You need to determine the type of files the vendor used to test the drive and the type of test the vendor ran because many claims are a result of using totally compressed files. These tests don't take into account that many file types can't be compressed, so the tests don't simulate real-world scenarios. For a list of future buyer's guide topics or to learn how to include your product in an upcoming buyer's guide, go to http://www.winntmag.com/ sh/ntlab/index.cfm.