tape shoe-shining or back-hitching

In backup, tape shoe-shining (also known as tape back-hitching) is the repeated back and forth motion a tape drive makes when there is interruption in the data stream.

When data is sent to tape, it needs to flow at the same speed as the tape. If there is a mismatch between speeds, the tape drive will try to accommodate it. For instance, if a backup server is sending data slower than the tape drive processor writes it, the drive will periodically stop and wait for data to catch up. Once the drive determines there is enough data to start writing again, it will rewind to the exact place where the last write took place, reset the tape heads and continue. All this happens very quickly; to the casual observer, the wheels on the tape drive just seem to stop and jerk back and forth (like someone shining their shoes) before moving forward smoothly again.

Because tape is a medium that requires blocks of information to be recorded or read sequentially, blank spaces are not acceptable. Buffers (temporary storage areas) can help with temporary speed mismatches, but they can fill up or empty when the mismatch is chronic.

How to prevent and resolve shoe-shining/back-hitching

Excessive tape shoe-shining or back-hitching is a problem for a few reasons:

  • Repeated back and forth motion causes a degradation in service
  • Creates extreme wear and tear on both the tape and tape drive
  • Shortens tape life and drive life, which can ultimately lead to tape backup failure

To prevent shoe-shining, backup administrators need to strike the right balance between the number and speed of backup tape drives, the amount of data being sent to the tape library and the connectivity between components.

If tape shoe-shining or back-hitching becomes an issue, the first step in resolving the problem is to determine the rate at which the tape drive expects data to be streamed. This optimal data transfer rate is usually expressed in terms of MBps. Once you know this value, you will use performance monitoring to determine the rate at which data is being sent to the tape drive. Finally, you will need to search for and resolve any bottlenecks that are preventing data from being sent at the expected rate.

This was last updated in October 2015

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