Do you remember the 80s?

Whether it was Top Gun in the theaters, Wham!’s Careless Whisper on the radios, or the perms – the 80s gave the world a lot to be thankful for. In the world of technology, it saw new storage options for data, which at the time made sense.

Released in the early 1980s, IBM 3480 data storage was the first in a long line of robust cartridge format tape drives and media types. The capacity was not a quantum leap from competing tape technologies available on the market at that time, but it was a better performer in terms of speed and reliability. Both the 3480 and the subsequent 3490 proved to be a versatile, reliable and durable storage technology, which provided adequate transfer speeds for a relatively low media cost. The 3480 was the first enclosed single spool tape cartridge, and became a mainstay in the Mainframe Area before expanding heavily into the oil and gas market.

The transferability and compatibility between drives of different manufacturers was a trademark characteristic of this type of magnetic tape technology, which has now evolved into 3592 and other half-inch cartridge types. The 3480 family was the first tape technology to use thin-film heads and chromium dioxide tape media, and both the 3480 and 3490 forms of closed reel technology were adopted in large volumes. This popular storage medium was used for many years.

However, as time passed, the problems with 3480 and 3490 media started to become apparent.

Problems associated with 3480, 3490, and 3490E technology

Overall, the media was a robust series that included 3480, 3490, and 3490E linear tape media. These cartridges types have stood the test of time. However, problems with the older (1980s vintage) tapes are starting to become more common. The main areas of concern for this media type include:

  • The availability of hardware to read the tapes and the issue of density variations between tapes.
  • The prolonged storage of media that has not been accessed for up to 25 years has created various media anomalies.
  • The sheer physical volume of this media type is becoming difficult and expensive to manage for some companies when over 20,000 of the cartridges will now fit onto a single LTO cartridge.

Generally speaking, the 3480 and 3490 series media demonstrates high recoverability when compared to other media types such as 8mm Exabyte, 4mm DAT and DLT. This is in part due to the fact that IBM was the core engineering body behind the development of the media series and they have a track record of producing robust and reliable recording hardware, media and format specifications. In addition, the media uses linear tape recording methodology, which makes for easier recovery, is less complex and has a greater success rate than helical scan or serpentine linear technology.

A final thought for making those mountains into molehills: a stack of 3480s the height of the Eiffel tower, would fit on modern media and stack up to just above the height of your morning cup of coffee 12,756 3480 taking up rows and rows of storage racking, would cost less than $10/year if stored in the cloud (with an average storage bill savings of over 99.99%).

According to Tape Ark’s Risk Rating, any tape from the 3480, 3490 and 3490E range is ranked 7 out of 10, with 10 being the most at-risk.

What to do if you have these tapes as part of your tape media collection?

We strongly advise taking immediate action if you have (or think you have) the 3480 and 3490 tapes as part of your tape media collection. As a first step, we highly recommend undertaking a Comprehensive Media Audit (CMA). This is a low-cost, low-touch solution uniquely designed to provide a detailed assessment of your recording media collection. With the results, informed decisions can be made on the relative importance and value of the data, and how best to treat your collection to align with strategic business objectives and retention policy requirements.

The in-depth examination provides accurate information to make decisions:

  • An accurate count of all the media and format types in the collection.
  • Analysis of the overall volume of data is then used to determine an accurate cloud footprint of the collection and the necessary cloud storage requirements.
  • A risk profile of each media type enables enhanced media sequencing for priority processing to avoid exposure to data loss, tape obsolescence and orphaning.
  • Identification of duplicated media items to avoid ingesting multiple copies to the cloud

We all understand the power of data. For today’s data custodians of yesterday’s data, we recognize the value potential of that data in use, not just in storage. The question of whether to retain the data or not can now easily be answered.