December 1st, 2017

Question

Tape storage and that weird smell.

I was processing some outgoing backup tapes this morning for our external storage facility. They all go out in boxes that look like this:

So you can guess who we have a contract with

Ours have little inserts, but you get the idea.

Anyway, while I’m doing this, I ask my coworker to come give the box a sniff. I know that sounds really weird, but for some reason, these boxes always smell like Skittles or some kind of very sugary fruit candy to me. I wanted to know if it was just me. She agreed that they have that smell.

But this reminded me of last year when we had a huge order of these tapes come back and there were some boxes that didn’t have that smell. And this is an interesting thing about tape storage.

When the tapes are really old, they start to break down. I’m not sure if it’s the magnetic tape itself or just the plastic case, but it gives off a very strong acetone smell. As the plastic starts to outgass–in a sealed container–it only accelerates that process and so you get tapes that are no good. They will break and gum up whatever machine you’re trying to use to read them. When you open the box, the stench of nail-polish remover is unmistakable.

So, yes, you can smell when a box of tapes has gone bad. This makes me wonder if the sweet smell is by design: a means of knowing if your tapes are still good or if that breakdown process has started.

Anyone else experienced this tape good/bad smell?