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LTO Tape Archiving Explained

  • What an LTO Drive is
  • The differences between LTO generations
  • Recommendations for LTO Software
  • How media creators can use this technology to safely archive their media and projects for decades




this is an excerpt of a recent power up webinar called ask larry anything hi my name is larry jordan in this short video tutorial i explain what an lto tape drive is the differences between lto generations recommendations for lto software and how media creators can use this technology to safely archive their media and projects for decades to come Bill R. asks bill asks i'm thinking about investing in an lto system for archiving how do i use an lto drive with an imac what generation of lto do you recommend and what apps can i use for managing archives well let's take time and look at ltos in more detail this for instance is an lto drive from m LTO Drive logic it connects via thunderbolt 3 it supports lto generation 8 and ltfs and the tapes that it records last around 30 years which is a great way to to have your data be archived because tapes will last a lot longer than an ssd or even spinning media hard drive we're going to cover all this stuff in just a minute but i want to concentrate first on this ltfs and lto two very important acronyms lto stands for linear tape open it's the technology that records digital data digitally to tape many of us think of tape as being analog based but lto is digital it supports a file system called lt for linear tape file system ltfs this was in invented a few years ago and it's designed to make an lto tape act like it's a hard drive when you open up a hard drive on your desktop whether it's windows or mac you have little window that shows up and the contents of the drive appear that's exactly what ltf is supposed to do is open up a little window so you can see the contents of the drive you then simply grab the file that you want and drag it from the tape window to your desktop could not be easier [Laughter] except it doesn't work so here's the problem especially on the mac when you open any window on a mac an invisible file is written into that folder that window that that invisible file specifies the size of the window the way the icons are arranged how the icons are sorted by name or by kind whether displayed as an icon or as a file name the size of the window all those little display characteristics are written into a hidden file inside that window that's why each window remembers where it was when next time you open it which is great if you're working with high speed storage like a hard drive or an ssd but tape drives don't act like hard drives or ssds they're entirely different they're called what's they're called a worm w-o-r-m write once w-o read many in other words when i'm recording to a piece of tape i can only record to that tape once if i want to record again i don't erase what's on the tape i go to the end of the tape and record a whole new section of tape so nothing is ever erased from a tape it's simply appended now this is great for archiving because it means that i cannot accidentally overwrite data that's already stored on the tape it can only write to that section of tape once but these little windows that open up inside the finder require that as soon as the window is open i have to write that invisible file to the tape drive so let's say that the information that i want on the tape is at the very beginning and i open up the window well it's got a shuttle all the way to the end of the tape record the window specs and then shuttle all the way back to the beginning of the tape to display what's inside that window and then you move the window well it's got to shuttle all the way to the back of the tape record the new window spec shuttle all the way back to the beginning and display what's on the ta it spends all its time shuttling so although it's it's wonderful that a tape drive acts like it is a hard drive the two technologies are so radically different that you're going to spend all your time waiting for that tape to shuttle back and forth as it writes the new updated window specs which you never expected to have written in the first place because it's an invisible file to you so instead and i'm going to give you some advice here in just a second don't worry about whether it supports ltfs ltfs is going to drive you nuts you're never going to well you'll use it once then you'll never use it again it's just simply a way of trying to get a tape drive to emulate a hard disk and on the mac it's a disaster LTO Generations lto is measured in generations there's lto one and two which i skipped from this list they're fairly old and then lto3 through the latest version which is generation 9. the big differences between generation are the amount of information that can be stored on the tape and the speed with which the tape drive writes lto3 for instance stores 400 gigabytes to a tape that doubled with lto4 doubled again with lto5 roughly doubled again with lto6 and then doubled again to lto7 you get the 10 trend here and then doubled and doubled so that lto9 which was released in september of this year holds 18 terabytes per tape in addition to supporting the current version let's look at lto7 just as an example just above the blue line it stores six terabytes per tape it reads lto 5 6 and 7 tape so if you put an lto 5 tape in it can read it it'll write lto 6 and 7. so it reads back two versions and writes back one version this is important because for instance let's say you buy an lto8 drive and then a year from now you want to upgrade to lto10 and i'm just inventing lto10 will read 8 and 9 and write 9 and 10 which means all of your lto8 tapes can be put into an lto10 drive and you're protected for the future this is important because the tape specs don't change they'll last for 30 years but the tape hardware the technology the generations will change so you need to keep this in mind as you're deciding whether or not you want to invest in lto technology we'll talk more about that in just a minute Earlier Generations Cost Less earlier generations cost less for instance an mlogic lt06 costs about thirty seven hundred dollars and the tape is sixty dollars a tape holds six terabytes an lto seven costs forty nine hundred dollars the tape is eighty dollars a tape and holds twelve terabytes lto eight is fifty two hundred dollars the tapes are a hundred dollars a piece and cold eighteen terabytes owc which also sells lto drives their prices are comparable and lto prices sorry and lto9 prices are not announced by either rem logical or wc keep in mind that the speed that we can currently write data to a tape varies between 350 and 400 megabytes a second tapes are really fast when it comes to reading and writing data but in order to feed that kind of speed a really smart decision is to have an ssd or a raid attached to the tape drive so that the speed of the ssd feeds data to the tape drive at the maximum speed the drive will support 400 megabytes a second will support a three drive raid or a an ssd if you have a spinning media hard drive that goes about 150 megabytes a second everything takes longer not that the tape drive can't write at a slower speed but if i'm copying 18 terabytes of data to a tape and i'm only writing at 100 megabytes a second it's going to take a whole lot longer than if i'm writing at 400 megabytes a second so as you're looking at pricing try to get a drive that has an ssd attached to it or get a standalone ssd to serve as a staging area for the data that you're going to write to the tape The Connection is Important all lto drives today are made by ibm although the lto consortium which is called ultrium was formed by ibm hewlett-packard and quantum hp got out of the manufacturing business a while ago long while ago quantum stopped a few years ago so that lto drives right now are only being made by ibm regardless of who sells the drive amlogic owc tanburg quantum hp ibm they're all selling an ibm lto drive lto tapes are made by either fujifilm or sony regardless of whose name is on the tape i personally prefer fujifilm but the choice is up to you when you're connecting an lto drive pcs use a connection protocol called sas this requires a pcie sas card in the pc and sas drives are cheaper because that is the native language of the lto drive we don't need to add extra connectivity cards to it however macs especially those that don't support cards which is just about everybody max use thunderbolt either two or three there we need to bundle a sas to thunderbolt card inside the lto which is done by both the wc and m logic so that i can plug the drive via thunderbolt into the side of a mac and now that drive will work with any mac that supports thunderbolt however that conversion card which is made by sonnet or other companies costs additional which means that mac compatible lto drives cost more because of the conversion technology the connectivity technology that's used to connect sas to thunderbolt and thunderbolt to a mac 4 Tasks to Managing Data there are four tasks to managing data seeing as the drive itself works the same because they're all made by ibm they all connect the same way they all lay data to the tape the same way so the operation of the hardware is the same what you need to concentrate on are the software controlled tasks this is the ability to transfer files to tape from your local storage to complete to keep a complete catalog of all the files that are stored across all your tapes because your tape library will very quickly exceed a single tape you want to be able to search for and find the specific files you need regardless of what tape they're on and then transfer those files back to your local storage those are the four steps that the software needs to maintain for you and there's a variety of lto LTO Software for Macs software that's available on a mac there's my lto from imagine products yoyotta, hedge canister for which is sold by m logic and made by hedge video, P5 from Archiware and axel ai from axel each of these have different strengths and weaknesses some like my lto are very very simple others like p5 from Archiware are designed for enterprises to be able to manage vast libraries of tape including automated robots that work with multiple tape drives at the same time everything else is in between and it depends upon whether you need something which is more focused on cataloging and library or simply laying stuff to tape each of these has strengths and benefits and is worth checking out and they're all good products it's just a question of which ones have the features that you are interested for your particular system Larry's Recommendation my recommendation is that i like lto for archiving i always have my only regret is that i've never had the money up front to be able to buy a drive because drives on a mac are generally four thousand dollars give or take a little bit and that's just more money than i've had the ability to spend personally for an lto drive but after you afford that initial investment tapes are cheap and infinitely expandable i've got right now about 100 150 terabytes of storage in the office which i could lay off to less than five tapes and if i get five more tapes i've doubled the amount of my storage tapes are so inexpensive that that once you've made the initial investment being able to put a program on a tape and say here's here's the latest thing i submitted to netflix or here's the series i did for cbs or here's all of my family's home movies whatever it is that you're storing you you don't have to fill a tape you can organize your stuff so that all of your client a files are on one tape and all of client b files are on another because the tape itself is a very very minimal investment compared to typical storage like a spinning media or ssd you want to buy the latest technology you can afford then plan to upgrade the hardware every 10 years or so and keep in mind that you want to buy a new drive that can read older tapes so if you buy lto9 then be sure to buy a new drive that can read tapes like 10 or 11 or plan on copying the data from your lto9 tapes and copying it to an lto 12 or 14 drive in the future to take advantage of the new storage technology and faster speed which points out that when you're working with tape archives your archives are active you can't just put the tape on the shelf and forget about it for 50 years you won't be able to play the tape we want to be able to pay attention to the files that are on the tape migrate them to the latest technology every eight to twelve years and make sure that everything still works you don't just store it and forget about it you store it and keep an eye on it and manage the assets in your archive over the years as i mentioned earlier all drives work the same so take your time looking at the management software which is where you'll spend your time saving finding and retrieving your files i think lto is a really smart option especially for people that are generating a lot of media and it's worth checking into the one lto generation that fits your budget and your needs the best.

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