Inside the Vault: Making Secure Tape Storage and Retrieval Possible

Topics: Data Archive | Offsite Tape Vaulting

What seems like an ordinary office building from the outside is far from ordinary on the inside. Continue your tour inside one of Iron Mountain’s many vaults with part two of this podcast series. This time, get an inside look into the various protocols that make secure tape storage and retrieval possible.

Listen to Inside the Vault: How Iron Mountain Protects Your Data

Listen to Inside the Vault: Ensuring Security in Transit


Announcer: On a shelf in a vault of this Iron Mountain storage facility sit two reel-to-reel tapes that have been here since 1981. They say a lot about how much things have changed in the records management business, and also how much has stayed the same.

One thing a visitor notices right away is that the customer name is scrawled on the side of the reel in marker. It’s about the only customer name you’ll find anywhere in this massive facility. Today, computerized records and scanners keep customer information completely anonymous. It’s all part of a process that puts the safety and security of customer data first.

Steve Garcia, an operations supervisor at the storage facility, sums up what’s changed at Iron Mountain in the 21 years he’s been here.

Steve: “Everything.”

Announcer: Mostly that means automation

“When I first got here 21 years ago there was a lot of manual processes. A lot.” (1:23:10)

Announcer: Computers and scanners have taken over much of what was once done by paper and pencil. You won’t find customer names on tapes anymore. Everything has been boiled down to numbers and barcodes. Even the Iron Mountain employees who handle the storage media don’t know what’s on it. That’s by design.

One thing hasn’t changed, however, is Iron Mountain’s relentless commitment to protecting and preserving its customers’ data in whatever form and for however long the customer demands.

Steve: “5/29/81”

Paul: “So this tape is from 1981? And for some reason it’s been here 35 years. And you don’t ask why.”

Steve: “No, because this account is still active, so all their stuff is active.”

Announcer: Some of those customers may not even be in business anymore. Amid acquisitions, bankruptcies and turnover, items in the Iron Mountain vault may stay here for years. That doesn’t matter. As long as the account is active, every asset is treated as a treasured asset.

Steve: “There’s a container that’s been here 21 years.”

Paul: “And you don’t know what’s in it?”

Steve: “No.”

Announcer: Iron Mountain takes pride in providing this level of confidentiality and security to its customers.

John Antista: “Just between the processes we have in place, the pride we take in the facilities, it is night and day over a lot of our small competitors.”

Announcer: That’s John Antista

John: “I’m the transportation/operations supervisor for the Burlington data management facility.” (3:00)

Announcer: Antista’s job is to make sure that a rigorous set of procedures are followed for every item the comes into or out of the facility, or even is moved within the building.

John: “From a tape being requested and being sent out to the customer is going to be seven different scan points on that media or the container that the media is in before it gets to you.”

Announcer: Here’s how it works.

John: “The customer puts in a list of tapes they want delivered back through Secure Sync, which is the online portal that they can use to manage their media.”

John: “It’s going to print the out a sheet of paper with the customer number, the media they want and what’s available. We scan a barcode and a batch ID on that piece of paper. That’s going to basically lock in that customer’s information without ever putting anything on the paper.”

Announcer: The customer information is kept confidential. In fact, most Iron Mountain employees refer to customers by number because they don’t know the name of individual accounts.

Once a request for media comes through, an employee pulls the tapes from the rack and puts them in a transport container, which has a barcode. You’ll never see employees walking around with individual tapes.

John: “That customer’s material can only be transported in their transport container. We can’t just grab tapes off the shelf and hand it to a customer. It goes into a container specifically designed to carry media.”

Announcer: The next scan point is on the container. That verifies that the media is where it belongs. The media and the transport container are scanned again before the container is sealed. That’s all well and good. But what happens if things don’t match up?

John: “Operations employees are held to a standard. They need to perform about 300 scan points per hour. It could have been they just picked it from the wrong slot”

Announcer: That creates a discrepancy.

John: “Not only do they have to resolve the discrepancy but they have to create a CAR – a corrective action request. Just for putting that wrong tape in the container, they’ve now done discrepancy research, created a corrective action request, which is an investigation, the root cause of failure point, and what your resolution is.”

Announcer: That resolution can vary from letting the discrepancy go to retraining the employee. Once the transport is sealed, it’s assigned a run for delivery.

John: “Now it’s on the run they’re going to do a staging scan. That verifies all the customers are on the run for tomorrow are in the right containers. Again, if you scan the wrong container it’s going to create an unexpected.”

Announcer: And that starts the quality control process all over again

John: “The next scan point is the driver comes in and he’s going to mirror the same staging scan that the operations employee did. He’ll scan everything on his run. Again, if something is missing or expected, it’s ‘Why?’”

Announcer: After the vehicle is loaded, the driver is given a scanner that contains information specifically about the tapes on that run. Once again, everything is secure and everything is anonymous.

John: “We have a PIN system in the scanner so that only certain authorized users are allowed to sign for the material. So I walk into a customer and say, ‘Is Jim Smith here?’ I hand Jim the scanner, he enters his PIN number and then I can scan the delivery to release it to him.”

Announcer: If Jim isn’t there, there are other people designated to accept the delivery, but only they can do so. If none of them are there, another CAR is generated, there’s an investigation and a resolution. And keep in mind that what we just described is what happens when a tape is shipped from Iron Mountain to a customer. When a tape is going back to the vault, the whole process happens again in reverse.

Iron Mountain takes pains every step of the way to avoid anything that might compromise those tapes.

John: “Nothing can be stored in the hallway or the production area overnight because it’s not a halon-protected area…If the fire alarm went off these doors close automatically.”

Announcer: That protection even extends to loading the tapes into delivery vans, a process that takes place under a canopy to protect against the elements. It even uses an air door to equalize pressure.

Paul: “What’s that door? It’s huge.”

John: “It’s an air curtain. It’s another added temperature control because the vehicles are loading out back. It just maintains a more consistent temperature.”

“Everything is loaded inside his area. When the couriers pull out, they don’t just drive away. They wait till that gate is closed before they pull out to make sure nobody piggybacks and tries to jump on while it’s open.”

Announcer: As we told you earlier, nothing has been left to chance.

These are the procedures that go on every day at Iron Mountain to keep customer data safe. But what about those extraordinary events that demand extraordinary action? In our final podcast in this series we’ll tell you some of those remarkable stories. This is Paul Gillin.