In search of lost tapes

New tracking system from Fujifilm provides perfect complement to encryption, taps GPS to locate missing tapes

What should you do if the thought of losing a container full of tape cartridges keeps you awake at night?

[ Mario Apicella's column is now a blog! Get the latest storage news from the Storage Adviser blog. ]

I have two suggestions: First, start encrypting your backups, at least those that you know will travel. No ifs, no buts, just do it. The second suggestion? See suggestion No. 1.

That may sound repetitive (and perhaps pigheaded), but there is no better way to protect customer and employee data from disclosure than encryption. Of course, although encryption renders your data unreadable, it won’t help you find those tapes.

A new service that Fujifilm expects to ship next year could be a perfect complement to encryption by making it easier to locate lost or misplaced tapes -- half-inch cartridges, in particular, because the Fujifilm Tape Tracker resembles those tapes exactly, hiding GPS and triband cell phone capabilities inside. Slide one in your tape container, and nobody will know it’s there.

Fujifilm also plans to offer a Web-based service to enables customers to pinpoint the Tape Tracker's location on a map and receive status information such as battery charge levels.

Another interesting application is to follow the itinerary of a tape shipment, recording the progress at fixed intervals on a map in your browser.

Want to make sure the cartridges that contain critical data don’t leave the safe surroundings of a tape vault? No problem, just draw a boundary line -- Fujifilm calls that Geo-Fencing -- around your vault and the application will raise an alarm if the device moves out of that area.

The three scenarios above should cover most requirements, but Fujifilm plans to also offer an SDK to customers who want to write their own code or prefer to integrate the application with their own management software.

It’s a pity that Fujifilm is not releasing images of those applications to the press for now -- the company is still hammering down a few details, I am told -- because the Web service demo I saw was quite convincing. The price is also worthwhile, with a per-device cost of less than $1,000 and a monthly service charge around $45.

Other aspects, such as the battery life and the accuracy of the GPS, leave me a bit perplexed. For example, my Garmin Nuvi gets somewhat “blinded” when I drive under a thick tree canopy; will the Tape Tracker be similarly impaired when locked in a tape container inside a truck?

“This is not a consumer-grade GPS system such as those you find in phones and other devices,” explains Daniel Greenberg, new product planning manager for the recording media division at Fujifilm. “It’s an industrial-grade, 1,000-times-more-powerful system, which is what sets us apart.”

Noted, but how long the battery lasts remains a critical aspect of the Tape Tracker. In fact, the device can be configured to meet different requirements and to maximize the duration of the battery charge.

For example, to track the full itinerary of a shipment, the Tape Tracker could be set to come alive every 20 minutes to acquire its coordinates and transmit them via the cellular network before returning to sleep mode.

In that configuration, the battery charge should last for at least one week, but more frequent transmissions would shorten that time. For other applications (Geo-Fencing, for example), the Tape Tracker could be configured to wake up only when it senses motion, which should also make the battery last much longer.

In fact, Fujifilm estimates that the battery should last one year if the Tracker is set to wake up once a day, which opens some interesting additions to your disaster recovery procedures, such as checking that a critical container is still where it’s supposed to be.

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