The Data Backup Battle Royale: Disk vs. Tape vs. Cloud

In business, it’s all about continuity.

A business continuity plan sets processes and steps an organization must follow for data backup and disaster recovery. A crucial part of any business continuity plan is this data recovery. Whether it be fire, flood or cyber attack, you need to be prepared in the event your business-critical data disappears.

When it comes to protecting data in today’s digital business environment, most continuity plans incorporate onsite and offsite backups. The most popular backups today are disk (HDD or SSD), tape (LTO), and the cloud.

For a small business, downtime from data loss costs between $137 and $437 per minute. Considering the revenue lost over a couple of hours of downtime, a robust continuity plan is essential to ensure you keep chugging along in the event of a data disaster. After all, business is about making money!

Your business continuity plan should lay out the best data backup practices to meet your unique needs.

Small businesses and backups need each other, but finding the perfect match can be challenging. It’s 2019, and there are tons of data backup options to help with business continuity, both onsite and offsite. The sheer quantity of backup options makes it tough to pick the right one.

Your solution should first protect all your business-critical data on your servers and every device. You may need multi-site backup redundancy, so you’re protected if your business environment and onsite backups are compromised. Your backup should also recover lost files in a timeframe that makes sense for your business.

Ask yourself, “Does our current business backup plan maximize our chances of surviving and thriving after a data disaster?”

If you can’t confidently answer “YES!” then now might be the time to reevaluate your business’ backup strategy. Read on as we compare disk, tape and cloud backups – to help you determine what works best for your business!

Initial Investment in Data Backup & Storage

Disk (HDD & SSD) | Moderate

You’ve probably been using external hard drives for years. Hard Drive Disks and Solid State Drives are relatively inexpensive and come with multiple storage capacities, allowing you to plug in and start backing up immediately. However, to maximize the effectiveness of your disk backup, you might need a disk array. Disk arrays are expensive. They hold multiple drives and optimize disk backup effectiveness and redundancy by automatically backing up to multiple drives. Disk arrays use features like RAID or NAS controllers for greater functionality and proficiency.

Additionally, as your business grows and accumulates more data to back up, you’ll need to purchase more external hard drives and disk arrays. Not only can this get expensive, but bulky drives will take up valuable office space. For multi-location redundancy, your business may need to spend more money on a third-party provider to replicate your onsite disk and store it in a controlled offsite location.

Tape | Moderate

On average, tape storage costs 15 times less than the same amount of Serial ATA (SATA) disk-based storage. While the tapes themselves are the lowest price per terabyte backup option, they require special drives, tech-aware applications and tape libraries that are expensive. Moving tapes offsite for multi-site redundancy might be too pricey for a small business, considering the cost of protected tape transportation and storage in a controlled data center.

Cloud | Low

Cloud service costs involve capacity, frequency, bandwidth, and numbers of devices. Your business may not need a large cloud backup plan right away. You can usually try out the cloud for no initial money down, as most cloud backup providers offer free trials, pay-as-you-go plans, or monthly payments. Per gig, you can typically use cloud storage with greater cost-efficiency than disk or tape.

Maintenance Cost

Disk (HDD & SSD) | High

Disks are easier to replace than LTO tapes, as tapes require the trouble of salvaging, sequencing, and reproducing data. However, hardware of any kind is mechanically sensitive and degrades over time, especially if it has moving parts like an HDD.

Hard disk drives are continually spinning and buzzing and require electricity at all times. All that energy usage isn’t going to reflect nicely in your business’ monthly energy bill. Additionally, even if correctly cooled and cleaned, disk backups have a relatively short lifespan compared to tape and cloud backups.

Tape | Moderate

Tapes use less energy over time than disk or cloud backups, as you only use the tape when transferring data to it. Otherwise, it sits on a shelf. In the right conditions, tapes can last for 30 years! However, maintaining that longevity takes some effort and money.

Tape backups must be maintained in an ideal environment, both onsite and offsite, to prevent dust and dirt from getting in the cartridges and causing errors. Tapes are prone to wear and tear and need to be retired if they’re past their prime. You may need to hire extra help to maintain your tape library and check for tapes that are starting to have regular errors and need replacing.

Cloud | Moderate or Included

Cloud services can either be managed by a third-party provider, or you can do it yourself. Using a managed service like Central Data Storage is less labor intensive because data duplication is handled offsite at no additional cost. While other providers make you pay for higher levels of support, CDS will take on the hours required each week for handling and transporting your data offsite via disks, tapes, or over the Internet.

Managed cloud backup services like UnisonBDR by CDS allow you to keep copies of your data onsite on a disk or tape while replicating to the cloud in the background of your IT processes. Complimentary backup software features can eliminate the need to pay someone to handle your cloud backups manually.


Disk (HDD & SSD) | High

With disks, you have many options to expand your data backups. Additional disk storage devices are relatively inexpensive and contain ample amounts of space for any file type. The variety and purchasability of disk backups make scaling easy. Just keep in mind that disk backups can take up valuable office space. Some businesses have entire rooms dedicated to their disk backups!

Tape | High

Tapes efficiently store your data, as a single tape can hold up to 12 TB of uncompressed data and 30 TB compressed. If you need to back up more, don’t worry! Additional tapes are cheap. In fact, tape is the lowest price per TB option for business data backups.

You’ll find the cost of tape media plus offsite vaulting is often still less expensive than an extensive disk array backup process. However, while tapes take up less space than hard drives, expandability is limited by tape backup capabilities. If you use tape drives, you eventually need to upgrade to new formats.

Cloud | High

The cloud has extreme data protection capabilities and can handle a seemingly unlimited amount of data. On the cloud, you can back up: VMs, containers, cloud apps, laptops, tablets, smartphones, websites, servers and more!

The cloud can handle any file from any device you throw at it. As your business grows and changes, the cloud can still back you up. Inevitably, as your business accumulates more data, the price of backing up that data to the cloud increases.


Disk (HDD & SSD) | High

Disk backups, either HDDs or SSDs, read and write faster than tape or cloud backups. Onsite disk backups give you direct access to your data, so finding a particular file on a disk system is as simple as going in and selecting the file. Typically, businesses designate one computer as their backup server to host the backup and recovery app and backup data to an attached disk or disk array for redundancy.

Tape | Moderate

Reading and writing to tape takes longer than disk backups. Some tape formats use unique file systems that make accessing specific files faster, but currently no tape format allows for accurate random access to data like disk and cloud backups.

Like any backup, tape continues to evolve, resulting in many businesses having to pay a company to make their obsolete tape backups readable again. Upgrading tapes not only requires money, but time, holding you up in case you need files quickly for litigation, compliance investigations or internal requests.

Cloud | Moderate

One of the fastest ways to recover a single file or small GB amount is from a cloud backup. Cloud restores can also take days depending on the amount of data and method used. Your initial backup will likely take longer than it would with disk or tape, but new backups will be copied incrementally or differentially in a fraction of the time.

Both backup and restore speeds depend on bandwidth, and if running during the day can bog down your work processes. Additional bandwidth is an option, but an expensive option. You can typically set your backup to run when bandwidth usage is minimal, like overnight, but that doesn’t guarantee the backup is complete when bandwidth is needed again.


Disk | Moderate

All hardware has a lifespan, especially if it has moving parts. However, unlike tape, disk backups are hermetically sealed. This casing protects disk drives from dust, mold, mildew, and heat damage. Considering disk backups don’t require frequent loading and unloading like tapes, there’s also a lower chance of mishandling physical media.

Disk-based backups are typically more secure than tapes because disks in a disk array are presumably under a closer-watch than tapes in cold storage. Additionally, disks are usually duplicated using a disk array, meaning if one drive fails or is held for ransom, another drive still holds the data for recovery.

Tape | High

While today’s tape backups come with secure encryption to thwart malicious data thieves, they’re still highly sensitive to natural everyday factors. The dust and dirt commonly found in today’s non-filtered server rooms can damage susceptible tape backups.

Tape can stretch, expand, melt and break, rendering it unable to read and write correctly. Even something as simple and ordinary as touching a tape with bare hands can ruin its effectiveness. Although a tape can last three decades, you should consider replacing it after about a year of weekly usage (roughly 50 uses) to ensure you can continue to trust it’s backing you up.

Cloud | Low

The cloud is highly reliable and isn’t going anywhere, making it presumably longer lasting than both disk and tape backups. The cloud is continuously backing you up, either incrementally or differentially, allowing for redundancy you can count on.

Per gig, you can usually backup data in the cloud with the highest efficiency, not having to continually buy and replace disks or tapes. Some cloud backup and recovery software, like what Central Data Storage offers, comes with built-in encryption which allows for secure and compliant backups of your business’ data.

Ideal Uses

Disk (HDD & SSD)

Great for onsite data backup and protecting computer systems from failure. Properly installed disk backup equipment automatically takes over when your primary system fails. Disk backups are common, and best serve businesses that need to store a moderate amount of data for a long time.


A time-tested data backup option for businesses that need to archive a ton of data for the long haul. Tapes can be kept onsite for quicker retrieval, offsite for redundancy, or both. For this, tape backups are extremely popular in the entertainment, life sciences and media industries.


Businesses utilize the capability and reliability of cloud backups for both archiving and backing up image files that don’t need to be immediately recoverable. The cost of cloud backups increases with data usage, not to mention the additional strain on your business’ bandwidth. These extra costs may deter some businesses from immediately moving their entire backup to the cloud.

So what does it all mean?

As technology advances so does the speed, efficiency, and security of backup and restore options. Not too long ago, the gold standard of data backup was disk-to-disk-to-tape. Fast forward a few years, and now businesses are protecting both their short-term and long-term data using a combination of disk, tape, and cloud. Businesses are using multiple backup products per workload, typically using disk for speedy onsite restores, tape for long-term retention, and the cloud for added agility.

While onsite backups and restores are quicker than offsite, onsite backups shouldn’t be your business’ only solution. If a natural disaster were to destroy your business environment, or a ransomware attack spreads across your network, your onsite backups would be worthless.

That’s why businesses today are using both onsite options like disk arrays in combination with offsite options like tape and the cloud.

If the backup portion of your business’ continuity plan is already in good shape and your backups are sustainable, you might be set! However, it could be worthwhile to rethink your business backup plans if you’re hungry to update physical backups, transfer data offsite, and have plans to expand in the future.

So what are you using to backup your business? Disk? Tape? Cloud? Or a combination of the three?

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