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Data recovery from half inch reel to reel tapes

One of our customers approached us with a half inch IBM tape, which had been archived 25 years earlier. They were unable to access the data and it was suspected that the media had degraded. They were looking to recover seismic surveys that had been stored in a TAR format. TAR is commonly used to collect many files into one larger file for archiving, while preserving file system information such as user and group permissions, dates, and directory structures.

The recovery was exasperated by the fact that firstly the tape had de-laminated - a common problem with media from the 1980s, where the manufacturing quality deteriorated. Secondly the data was spilt into 80 byte block headers and trailers, which were not part of the data. These were tape label identifiers, needed when the tape is read.

The surface of the tape was sticking to the heads and guides of the tape transport. This is caused when tape binders absorb moisture, often due to poor storage. Ironically, the way we solved this problem was firstly to de-spool the tape, soak in fresh water and cure in a specialist oven for 72 hours at 130 degrees.

Once we were able to extract the data, we were then confronted with the problems of the block headers and trailers. In order to make this data usable, we had to manipulate the information by stripping out the unwanted code. Upon completion the data was verified and copied out in uncompressed TAR format to dvd.