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Unfortunately, you'll never get that number, so it's really up to you. I know one customer who uses a fresh piece of media every time he does a backup. In my opinion, that's a ridiculous waste of a company's money. I also know people that keep reusing their media without any tracking. That's quite risky. I like something in the middle. Based on the numbers above, I don't think anyone will reach the "real" life of their media on a regular basis, so I don't throw away media based on that. I just throw away media the second it gives me a write error -- zero tolerance.
As long as we're on the subject -- please don't resell your media. Most modern tape drives can't reuse media that's been degaussed, so ask any vendor that's claiming to degauss tapes before reselling them how that's supposed to work.
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This was first published in September 2006