Data conversion? What could be easier?

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This small IT service provider has two new customers about a hundred miles apart -- and a serious barrier to serving one of them, reports a pilot fish working there.

"One of the customers had a cartridge tape unit attached to their existing system, but we couldn't read those cartridges," fish says. "The other customer had a system with both a cartridge tape drive and an open-reel drive that handled tapes our system could read."

Fish knows it should be possible to use the second customer's data center as a conversion facility to move data between cartridges and reels for the first customer -- at least in theory.

Second customer is willing to give that arrangement a try. First customer creates a cartridge tape for a trial data-conversion test, and fish picks it up and drives to the second customer's data center.

His team mounts the cartridge tape and an open-reel tape, and fires up a utility from the system vendor that's designed to convert between the two formats.

"After several minutes, both drives went still," says fish. "It turns out that utility didn't see a lot of use in this particular configuration, and had some issues."

What's worse is that the failed conversion test required taking down the second customer's online system at midday. It takes the customer's IT people hours to get the system back up, and fish's team will not be invited back to try that conversion path again.

But there's another, even more primitive option: The first customer can punch its data onto paper tape, which fish's company has the equipment to read.

It requires boxes and boxes of the inch-wide tape to store the data that fits on a single magnetic-tape cartridge or open reel, but that's not the big problem.

"Their tapes were all oiled to work with a reader that sensed the holes mechanically," sighs fish. "Our system could read paper tapes, but used an optical reader that expected them to be dry. The oiled tape was too transparent for the optical reader.

"We spent days in a darkened room nursing the oiled tape through our delicately adjusted optical reader."

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