Tape tales

By | November 28, 2006

Just a quick one……

The company that Im currently working for recently recalled a batch of tapes from 3rd party offsite storage. When we got them back they were covered in grass – that's right grass!!! How do tapes get covered in grass? I know a lot of companies are "going green" these days and trying to be more environmentally friendly but I've never heard of a tape storage facility with grass and trees inside – may be I'm behind the times?

It reminded me of a couple of other strange things that have happened with tapes – usually when they have been shipped offsite. The kind of things that industry analysts rarely think of when calculating tape retention lifetimes etc. Its fair enough to say that you shouldn't rely on a tape that is more than 6 or 7 years old because the media may have rotted and corroded beyond use. But what about all the other things that just seem to happen to tapes – such as them being used for goal posts in a football game – that's probably how the grass got on the tapes I'm talking about.

Ive personally had tapes come back from storage cracked and broken. Ive also had tapes come back that belong to other companies! Ive had tapes vanish into thin air from a 3rd parties "secure" vaults (only for them to be found later because they were stored with the barcodes facing the wrong direction). But the most annoying one – a disgruntled former colleague swapped the barcode labels around on over a hundred tapes on his last day at the company. This was in the days when SDLT media was the king in the open systems world. SDLT was great but one of its major draw backs was how easy it was to slide the barcode labels in and out of the media casing (bad design!!). Thank goodness the guys who designed the LTO physical casing designed them to require sticky labels that cant be so easily swapped around – great foresight guys pat yourselves on the back!

Any more tape tales are welcome.


7 thoughts on “Tape tales

  1. Karl

    Grass on the tapes?? Whoa, I’d love to have been a fly in the wall at the followup conversation with whomever was storing your tapes.

    When it comes to stupid tape designs (or tape handling designs) my favorite was when our AS/400 group accidentally inserted a 3590 cart upside down into their 3494 library. You’d think the library would recognize the error, but no, the robot arm grabbed the cart from the cap and proceeded to try and load it into a slot. Bang! That’s right, it doesn’t fit that way. Invoke some type of error recovery and drop the tape into an eject bin? Nope, try again. Bang! Like a starling flying into a high-rise window that robot kept trying to jam that tape into the slot. Bang! Bang! Bang! Finally the robot broke itself and a service call was required. Good design, IBM. Since that library wasn’t part of our storage domain (we have all STK libraries) we thought that was the funniest thing we’d seen in a month. AS/400 guy wasn’t laughing, though.

  2. c2olen

    Grass on the tapes? You're 3rd party external vault company didn't drive it's van into a ditch now, did it?
    Haven't heard of such a thing before.

    Karl: We've been running 3590 drives and carts in 3494 libraries for over 10 years now, 5 libraries in total, over 5000 carts. Never had a single issue, apart from a mechanical failure or two. Our AS/400 lib purs fine too. We can't even place the carts in the wrong way into the tape exchange slots. Not even when a bulk-I/O wall is defined. Carts just don't fit in wrong. The cart exchange door doesn't close when carts are inserted in the wrong way.

    Before running 3494 libraries, we had a comparex robot arm (from the automotive industrie) running. When the controller station wasn't booted in the right way, some "glitches" would occur, and it would try to fit all carts (3480) into one slot.
    After a while a separate scanner was installed, which scanned the slot to see if it was empty. If the slot wasn't empty, the robot was programmed to stack the carts in front of him, on the floor. One problem with this. We needed to pause the robot before one of us could crawl under the plexiglass wall, to go in and retrieve the carts. Otherwise he could be knocked down by the robot's swing.

    Impressive sight though.

  3. Dimitri

    We once had an SE make a customer site visit to solve a high tape mortality problem. He discovered a door near the tape library that led to a very large empty room containing nothing but two hockey sticks and multiple LTO tapes on the floor.

  4. Nigel (mackem)

    Karl, Ive also known of operators putting LTO tapes into an STK 7000 upside down. When they were asked if they could remove them and put them in the right way up they said they were not allowed to do that and had to call out an STK engineer!!! Nice easy job for the engineer I guess. Not a great design but better than the IBM which broke itself – bet that was quite a sight!

    I was also once told that an enginerr had been killed inside of a large STK silo when the robot started up while he was inside. The guy telling me said that the engineer had been decapitated. I didn’t believe it of course 😉 And then some months later somebody tried to tell me the same story but this time the engineer was chopped into several pieces by the robot “like a frog in a blender” was the guys exact words. One of the many storage world myths!!

  5. Jesse (SanGod)

    Grass? Ouch. Time to change storage companies.

    We took the simpler way. As we don’t trust ANYONE who isn’t a badged employee with backup tapes, we bought about 100 of those big, red “Turtle” cases with the loop for the padlock.

    When backups complete, we seal the tapes with a barcode, lock them in the red box with a padlock, and ship the box off-site. When we get them back we unlock them, remove the seal and put them back into rotation.

    Since they presumably don’t know the lock combination, and the barcode labels we use are the tamper-proof type, it would take a lot of work to get in, duplicate a tape, and get out without us knowing. Then there is the fact that all of our backups are encrypted with an unnecessarily long key.

    It’s not nice to say we don’t trust them, but when it’s financial data, it’s best not to put too much faith in drivers that make $10 an hour.

  6. Nigel (mackem)

    Sounds like you’ve got it sussed there Jesse.
    Speaking of encryption though….. That reminds me of n environment I worked in with Decru Datafort encryption boxes that tirelessly encrypte everything that went to tape. The thing that worried me was that nobody on staff understood how to ocnfigure and tourbleshoot the dataforts and any of the ops staff, shoulf they fall out with the company, could pull one of the quorum type encrption cards and drop it down the drain – leaving us in quite an embarrassing situation – “the data is secure…… errr so secure that we cant get it back”

  7. Jesse (SanGod)

    We’ve looked at the Decru for inline encryption. Right now we’re using the encryption package that comes with NBU, with certain successes. (My only complaint is that you can’t use Encryption and Bare-Metal Restore at the same time, a MASSIVE shortcoming on the part of NetBackup.

    Of course, I did get one of the cases back with a massive dent in one of the corners – apparently the tape-apes dropped the box in the parking lot.

    Luckily the box is so heavily padded and the tapes so securely held in the box that we’ve had no issues with that particular batch.

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