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Buyer Beware: Reconditioned DLT Tapes Endanger Data Old And New.

Regular readers of CTR have seen this quote from philosopher John Ruskin before: "There is nothing that someone can't make a little cheaper and sell for a little less...and the person who buys for price alone is that individual's lawful prey." The compulsion to save a buck is universal, but so too is the opportunity to put business-critical data at risk.

The threat of the month to data integrity and reliability is the growth of so-called "reconditioned" DLT tapes. CTR learned recently that some unethical resellers have been successfully trying to pass "used" DLT tape on to customers as "new" product. It is, regrettably, difficult for an IT manager to know if a DLT tape is new or used by simply looking at the product. Most brands of DLT tape, if not all brands, do not come with individual shrink-wrap. Rather, a brick of five or seven cartridges are collectively shrink-wrapped together. Once this shrink-wrap is removed, the cartridges can be easily accessed.

Reliability Issues

So what is the problem? There is more than one problem with used tape. Was the used tape subjected to a faulty or poorly maintained drive? If so, the tape's performance can be affected by tape edge fraying, tape wrinkling, or tape stretching. Was the used tape properly stored within the specified temperature and humidity ranges? Was the used tape subject to dust or other potential contaminants? How many tape passes were made?

It should come as a surprise to no one that reliability of storage tape is a common concern for IT people. Used tape can introduce a host of issues that can result in functionality and security problems, including:

* Data loss due to low signal-to-noise ratio.

* Shorter archival life.

* Preservation of computer viruses for later exposure.

* Damage from mishandling or poor cartridge storage condition.

All it takes is one sector of corrupt or infected data to wreak havoc with crucial records.

Security Issues

Data availability is one thing. But data security is another. In many situations, just erasing a tape is not enough to be sure the "erased" data is actually gone. It is not enough to erase your company's data. Too weak a degaussing will only destroy the first few data blocks. A "complete" or "security" erase must be performed. Otherwise, the tape must be properly degaussed. On a DLT tape with 80GB of compressed data, an industrial strength degausser must be employed. Professional data recovery experts can recreate several layers of data.

According to Rich Gadomski at Maxell: "As far as Maxell is concerned, the most important feature of DLT is reliability. You have to be able to quickly restore large quantities of data upon demand. We want to avoid any circumstance that compromises DLT's reputation for superior reliability. In speaking to several members of the Maxell sales force, there is not an apparent demand for used DLT tape. End users of DLT tape have a serious task at hand and will not be interested in buying used tape even if it is presented as 'reconditioned.' The savings of a few dollars don't justify the downside."

Look For The Seal

Major manufacturers of DLT tape media are making efforts to assure the end user that its DLT tape has not been previously used and then resold without their knowledge. In October 2000, Fujifilm's Computer Products Division, which had conducted extensive market research and worked closely with its FMDA DLTtape manufacturing facility in Bedford, MA, became the first manufacturer to introduce DLTtape with a Security Seal. The Security Seal is a unique, add-on feature to the product's protective case designed to guarantee product integrity and resistance against tampering. Easy to open, the security seal also offers another benefit--it's environmentally friendly. The Seal limits the waste and potential for data center contamination associated with other types of packaging.

"From Fujifilm's perspective, quality involves more than just reliable tape. It also relates to the value-adds that help customers to better manage their data," said Rob Corini, senior product manager, Computer Products Division, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc. "We were the first manufacturer to offer clear product cases for DLTtape, enabling easy bar-code and visual scanning. We understand the value and sensitivity of the mission-critical data stored on our products, and we created the Security Seal to guarantee quality for our resellers and to provide our end users with a simple, effective basis to ensure their DLTtape media is new and unused."

Quantum's media operation is on board. "Our customers demand data integrity and reliable data recovery," said Dana Kritter, marketing director, DLTtape Media Division. "The inclusion of a Quantum security seal on DLTtape media identifies the quality and reliability of a DLTtape 'original.'"

Maxell's Gadomski notes: "Our friends at Fuji have come up with an innovative idea to combat this problem. Namely, they have implemented a factory fresh security seal applied to the protective case of the cartridge. The seal is easily broken when the case is opened to access the new cartridge inside. Maxell plans to implement a factory fresh seal starting with February production."

Make The Smart Move

Media sales representatives for Maxell have reported to the company that there seems to be no real market for reconditioned tapes. As an experiment, your editor made an Internet search on the Google engine for reconditioned DLT tapes. No one in that search offered reconditioned media. But there was a copy of a Missouri procurement contract for tape media. It specified that media was to be new...it specifically and exactly forbade reconditioned cartridges in fulfillment of the state's requirement. To do so would put the vendors in breach of contract.

Missouri made a smart provision. Volume users of DLT tapes might take a lesson. If you buy for price alone, there are those who will accommodate you...then you'll wonder what happened later.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event
Author:Ferelli, Mark
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:973
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