Common causes of tape failure and data loss

We have developed an unrivalled range of hardware and software tools to deal with almost every situation. If your data is there, we will recover it.



  • Operational error
  • Expired tapes
  • Mishandling of the tape
  • Accidental overwrites caused by inserting or partially formatting the wrong tape

Physical damage

  • Broken tapes
  • Dirty drives
  • Damage caused by chemicals, fire, flood or other natural disaster

Software upgrades

  • Inability for data on tape to be read by new application or servers
  • Software problems or backup failures

We support all tape media

Ontrack has a large inventory of tape drives to read your media. If you use an obsolete archive format, don't worry, our data recovery engineers have the experience and the resources required to search, extract, and recover your data .

We recover from all tape media:

Tape Drive Tape Media Tape Capacity
Vendor: IBM®
3500 series
3500 MP series 5 - 700 GB
Vendor: Sony®
AIT series | SAIT series
8mm (AIT) 35 - 500 GB
Vendor: Oracle® (formerly StorageTek)
9800 series | 10000 series
9800 series | 10000 series 40 - 1,000 GB
Vendor: Quantum®
DLT series | SDLT series
DLT series | SDLT series 80 - 800 GB
Vendor: Tandberg™ Data
DAT series | LTO series | SLR series
VXA series
4mm, 8mm (MP) | Ultrium (Generation 1 - 6)
38 - 6,000 GB
Vendors: Quantum, HP, Sony
DDS series | DAT series
DDS 4mm 20 - 40 GB
Vendors: IBM, HP, Quantum, Sony 
LTO series
Ultrium (Generation 1 - 6) 200 - 6,000 GB

If you do not see your brand of tape drive or tape media listed, contact us to discuss your specific recovery options. In addition, custom development is available for unique or proprietary backup archive systems. Alternatively, view our tape recovery capabilities in our information sheet .

Comprehensive tape services

Whatever your tape needs, we have customised solutions to help you manage your tape legacy data efficiently.

Find out more

Process for tape recovery

Data Recovery from tape is anything but basic. Our Ontrack Data Recovery R&D team has been building up tape recovery knowledge and resources for over 25 years. Our process below has proven success.

  • Tape recoveries are performed in dust-free cleanroom environments
  • Tapes and tape drives are carefully dismounted, examined and processed
  • Proprietary tools are used to read and recover around any physically damaged areas
  • We are able to quickly image failing tapes to ensure the most complete data recovery possible

Warning: Attempting to recover tape data on your own, or through an inexperienced data recovery provider, may lead to further damage. Select a data recovery provider with the resources, expertise and experience you can trust.

Common tape & backup media problems

Tape is a fragile medium and is not suited to random access operations. However it provides an effective, high capacity and yet low-cost solution to the problems of securing your data.

Snapped or creased: Ontrack can recover any data from undamaged areas of tape, and often even from areas where there is some apparent damage.

Fire or Flood: Any attempt to read the tape will probably result in further damage to both tape and drive. Fire or extreme heat will cause data loss and might result in a failure of the tape mechanism. Any attempt to read from the tape will fail and might cause the tape to snap or become wound inside the drive mechanism.

Read error/ failure: Experts like Ontrack can read all unaffected areas of the tape and then, by using proprietary tools or by writing bespoke code, can restore the files from your tape.

Blank tape: Your software tells you that the tape must be formatted or initialised before it can be used. Specialised hardware will bypass the problem to recover your data.

Overwritten data: Did you just start a backup and then realised that you are overwriting the only copy of your business-critical data? This is actually becoming one of the most common issues we deal with. Ontrack can access any unaffected area of tape and recover your data.

Tracking: It could be caused by a serious media failure or a head alignment problem.

Poor recording: Sometimes a recording flaw can be serious enough to cause the drive firmware to crash and paralyse your entire system.

Incomplete recording: A hardware error during writing could have abnormally terminated a backup session. Some backup utilities require access to an on-tape directory that is written once the backup is complete. If the directory is incomplete or corrupt then the software could freeze or fail.
Forensic tape recoveries performed for legal procedures

Forensic recovery

Urgent restore request for a litigation? We recover legally sound data from tape media to satisfy litigation requests.

Tapes contain a snapshot of data which was present on a system at a point in time. This could include information which is no longer available in 'active' storage, especially if – in the anticipation of an investigation - efforts have been made by a suspect to manipulate or remove potentially incriminating evidence from the live system. However, this evidence can still be found via a forensic investigation of the tapes. We can recover forensically sound data quickly when urgent restore requests arise.

FAQ: Recover archived data

When your tape has been physically damaged or the data is corrupt and you are unable to read it.

If your DAT, 8mm or AIT tape is snapped, you can try (at your own risk) to stick it back together using adhesive tape. However, you need to be careful. Under no circumstances should the area covered with adhesive tape come in contact with the read/write head of the drive as this could destroy it. It is possible to fix the tape since data is saved consecutively on this type of tape using the helical scan method. However, the data stored snapped or broken point will be lost. This method will not work with DAT or LTO tapes since they use a different method to save the data.

Even though it is possible, we do not recommend it! Should this happen, it is better to contact experts, like Ontrack, to carry out the repair and recovery. We offer a repair service for snapped or broken tapes as part of our tape data recovery services. Since the tape is usually now only good for one operation – data recovery – it should not be used again and, therefore, it should be destroyed securely after a recovery has been carried out. Additionally you should check your tape drive, since a snapped tape often indicates that there is an underlying hardware failure which caused this to happen.

You should consult a data recovery specialist immediately. Since water can cause damage to a tape, it most likely results in data loss, if the data is not recovered within a certain timeframe. If your tape(s) contain important data, some of it may be lost. Specialists, like Ontrack, can recover most or all of the data, since they have unique equipment to both dry the tape(s) and read the content. Do not try to heat up or freeze the tape(s) as this can cause even more issues and reduce the chances of restoring the data.

Even if you handled your tapes with great care over the years, some of them can often be polluted with dust. This is quite normal since the magnetic layer of the tape attracts dust. If a dirty tape is used in a tape drive, it will either make the read/write head go bust, or it can destroy data on the tape as a result of dust rubbing over the surface.

The solution to this problem is to clean the tape either with alcohol, a cleaning tape or with a machine especially designed for this purpose. This machine will then wash away the dust or dirt by special cleanser pads from both sides of the tape. When cleaning a tape yourself opening the jacket is not without risk and should only be done by an experienced professional as the mechanism inside is sometimes not as simple as it seems in the beginning.

This depends on the amount of damage to the tape. In any case, you should consult with a data recovery tape services specialist since the experts will have the necessary tools to recover both the tape and the data.

If the cover was the only part affected by the fire, it is sometimes possible to take a new or used tape product, disassemble the item, switch the tapes and put it back into the cartridge.

When a tape itself is destroyed by fire, there is normally no way to recover the data. In the case that only parts of the tape were burned, there is a very low chance that any data can be recovered. For an estimate on the damage and possibility of data recovery, the tapes should be sent to the Ontrack data recovery engineers for a closer look.

Compared to a hard disk, normally this should have no serious effect on the ability to read or write the content of the tape. Since modern tapes come packed inside solid jackets, e.g. LTO3, then shocks from a certain height pose no major threat to your data. Even if the jacket is broken, the tape itself can still function.

In this situation, it is possible to insert the tape into another, intact jacket. When you need to do this, you should seek the help of data recovery experts who have experience with tape services.

You would normally need some assistance in carrying out this procedure. Since this is the most difficult and advanced type of recovery job, you would need special tools and hardware to perform this task. Additionally, you need very good knowledge of the way data is structured and saved on the tapes and within tape library storage systems. Most people without professional experience do not have this type of knowledge. In this case, it is would be wise to contact Ontrack to recover the erased or formatted tapes.

If you experience problems with bad tape media, you should contact your tape vendor immediately. Some vendors have analysis tools to check the quality of the problematic area. It is also possible to purchase these types of analysis tools. The great advantage of using these tools is that you can find out the exact amount of read/write procedures as well as the current life expectancy of the tape. With this information, you can decide if you want to use the tape for upcoming backups. Additionally, this analysis can provide a good indication as to why a tape is not accessible anymore, where perhaps there are Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) failures or tape/write errors. The problem of broken tapes is very rare when they are brand new, but there is still a small chance of getting one that does not function properly, especially in cases where you have a very large amount of tapes.

If your tapes are unreliable, you should not use them for saving important data.

Whether they are for backups or legacy data storage, the tapes are not secure enough to use anymore. If you are not certain of the quality of the tape, you can either give it to a tape service provider or buy a tape diagnostic device for analysing it. If the quality of the tape is too low for professional storage purposes, you should consider migrating the content to a new tape or another storage device using a professional tape migration service. Additionally, Ontrack can offer you a detailed analysis on the quality of your tapes and provide you with a list of all content stored on inaccessible tapes.

A read/write error is quite a common problem, not only with tape, but with all storage devices. When you experience such an error, you have to check for several possible causes. The most common cause of this type of failure is dirt on the read/write heads of the tape device. The solution: clean the heads with a suitable cleaning tape.

Sometimes old tape media causes a read/write error. In this case, try another (new) tape. If this doesn't help, there are other possible causes, such as the use of an incorrect tape storage device driver or firmware or faulty cable connections.

The worst case could be that the device has reached the end of its lifecycle. If this happens, you can decide whether it is a good idea to stick with the current tape system, switch to another tape drive or to another storage device, like a hard disk. In any case, you should migrate your tape content to another storage medium.

CRC is the abbreviation of Cyclic Redundancy Check, which is a method to check if data has been transferred correctly via any network. Prior to a data transmission, the original data will receive additional code, which is a checksum to detect changes in the data. After a file is received at the destination the checksum has to be identical to the one before the transfer. Otherwise, the file is corrupt and a CRC error will occur.

As with the case of a tape read/write error, a CRC error is usually an indication of either a faulty tape or a bad connection where the data transfer went wrong. In most cases, it is a good idea to either try the transfer again or to resave it. If this doesn't help, use another tape or check the cable connection to and from your tape storage system.

The simple answer would be, you can't. If your tape machine doesn't show your tape, you won’t be able to access the data. Possible solutions to this problem are:

  • You have a second drive as emergency backup hardware just for this purpose. With some luck, your tapes can be accessed and read by the other tape drive as it is not uncommon that tapes that work perfectly fine with one drive but don't work with another one, even if it is the same model and brand
  • You can clean your tape drive and hope for it to run again. With some luck it will, since these types of drives were engineered for heavy duty work and durability

If these methods don't bring the device to life you can either try to buy a new or used drive of the same brand and model or bring the device to a specialist who can fix it. To access the files you should get in contact with data recovery experts for tape like Ontrack.

Read/write errors when accessing the backup file indicate that there might be a problem with the tapes or with the tape drive. If cleaning the heads of the tape machine doesn't help, you should not try to access the data on the tape as this can worsen the problem.

By trying to access working tapes with bad hardware, you risk losing your data permanently. You should immediately contact tape recovery experts, such as Ontrack, to restore the data with specialised tools.

In the case of tapes damaged by water, fire or broken cartridges, you should not try to recover the data by yourself. In most cases, you may prevent a possible restoration of the tapes. If you try to access such a tape by putting it into a drive, you could also destroy the machine, which is most likely still worth a lot to you. In such an event, you should get in contact with tape recovery specialists, such as Ontrack.

If your tape restore failed, try another hardware environment. Sometimes, tapes which are not readable on one drive can function perfectly with another drive. This is a common problem with incompatibility issues between both different drives from different brands and different tapes by different brands. This happens quite often and the best solution is to try which tapes work best with your drives.

If this doesn't help, you can try cleaning the drive with a cleaning tape and check for that the cable is properly connected.

If your drive is not functioning anymore, then consult with Ontrack for a professional tape restore. At Ontrack, we keep a large amount of drives from different brands and models in stock, which is normally very difficult to have, even within the IT department of a large company.

If you experienced problems accessing your backup or the verification of the backup process has failed, there may be several reasons that caused the backup operation to fail. If your backup tape wasn't stored properly or the tapes just are too old, it is quite common to experience this type of problem.

You can try a different software or hardware environment to recover your backup. If this doesn't work contact the tape data recovery specialists at Ontrack.

Our customers reviews

Start recovering your data!

Contact our team of experts. Ontrack accommodates everyone – from the largest government or enterprise organization to an individual who may have lost their digital photos and everyone in between.

Call us +971 4 275 7433