Backup Solutions Cost Analysis

June 2011

I thought it prudent to update this page a little, since it has been years and things have changed drastically since 2004. Below you will find the original 2004 page, and here an updated version to reflect the new costs, and my new beliefs on the subject of backups.

Here’s a short comparative list of some available backup methods:

Whereas times have changed I now give you cost per gigabyte (GB) for each of these storage methods, at the time this article was written.

Method Cost of a Blank Medium Capacity (GB) Cost / GB (cents)
CD-R(W) $0.38 0.7 54.3
DVD-R(W) $0.25 4.7 5.3
LTO-5 Ultrium 3TB RW Tape $83.26 2000 4.2
2TB Hard drive $88.13 2000 4.4
Blu-ray Disc $1.88 25 7.5

Plainly, CD-Rs are only good for making audio CDs to play in your antiquated CD playing devices. Tape has always been an economical option and it still is the most cost-effective today, based on media pricing alone. Tape also is faster than ever, but just as expensive to get into.

Note that for tape I chose a 3-terabyte (TB) data tape and claimed it had a capacity of only 2TB. What gives? you ask. Manufacturers of tape have always, in my lifetime, quoted the capacity as the compressed total, not the native total of the tape. Manufacturers double the native capacity and state that the tape can hold twice as much as it can, because for perhaps the majority of tape users in the past, it has been as close to the truth as makes no difference. Today, things are different.

Organizations such as banks, insurance companies, airlines, governments and the like may truly realize the full compressed caacity. It is likely that much of the data they intend to store are textual documents. This does not apply to the likes of video production houses, broadcasters and perhaps Internet service providers. These types of users will not get close to the stated compressed tape capacity because the files they need to store are already heavily compressed. And so it is that I state a 2TB capacity for a 3TB tape. As always, your situation may differ, so this guideline may not apply.

Now, given the roughly 78 terabyte cost of acquiring a tape drive that can store data on so-called 3TB tapes, I reckon the best data backup options for most of us are hard drive and writeable DVD media. Costs are relatively close, but DVD media perhaps offer more security as far as data integrity goes. Data integrity is key because finding out your data cannot be recovered from your backup will inevitably only happen when you really need to recover your data from backup.

So store your data in more than one place, and of course that means multiple copies of everything that is important. Using multiple media effectively reduces your chances of not being able to recover some critical data in the future, should you have cause to need your backup.

Original 2004 Version

There is no doubt that by now you’ve realized the potential and necessity of storing your important files in a safe place—i.e. not on your hard drive, and sometimes even off-site. How do you go about implementing your backup plan?

Here’s a short comparative list of some (previously) popular methods:

Now, the cost per megabyte (MB) for each of these storage methods (at the time this article was written).

Method Cost of Blank Media Capacity (MB) Cost / MB (cents)
CD-R(W) $2.00 650 0.3
1.44MB Floppy disk $0.30 1.44 20.8
HP Colorado 5GB tape $44.77 4882.8 0.92
Hard drive $259.77 19531.25 1.33
LS-120 Floppy disk $12.99 120 10.8
Zip disk $9.99 100 9.99

All right, the prices are reflective of my cost today, and will change tomorrow, but the outcome is still the same. In fact, let me do something unfair: Cost of a CD-R when I first started using them was $15 each. That is 650MB of storage for $15. Cost per megabyte those days was 2.31 pennies. Now compare that with today’s options and you can see plainly it still fairs well.

There are other options. DAT tape storage looks to be around 0.13 cents per megabyte, which seems to be the cheapest solution yet… but think of initial cost of the DAT drive as well, folks!

Something to consider heavily is the universality of the media. How many people do you know own Zip drives? How many have a tape drive or removeable hard drive that is compatible with yours or your other friends? Now also ask yourself how many people you know that have a CD-ROM drive. Given the penetration of CD-ROM drives in the consumer computer market and the cost per megabyte for storage, a CD writer of some sort offers the best overall solution for backup storage.