LTO Tape Archiving on the Cheap

We’ve been told by Larry Jordan and others that archiving our one-of-a-kind media files on hard drives is just waiting for disaster to strike. Eventually the hard drive will fail. Most people recommend using LTO tape as an archiving medium since it’s estimated to last 30 years or more. But even with new hardware like the mLogic mTape Thunderbolt drive, you’re still talking about $4,000 for the hardware and software. I needed a cheaper solution.

In response to an article by  called “Affordable, Easy LTO Archiving” on CreativeCow I posted this reply:

I’ve been archiving original camera files to Blu-Ray, but needed some way to archive FCPX projects which are about one TB each, on something other than a pile of hard drives.

I just took the plunge into the murky world of LTO and cobbled together a system for under $1500. Since we’re talking about “affordable” I thought I’d share my journey, since I couldn’t find an off-the-shelf LTO 5 or 6 Thunderbolt solution for under $3,500.

I found a Tandberg LTO 5 tape drive on eBay for $750 (probably a one of a kind deal), bought a used ATTO PCIe SAS card from B&H for $199, installed the card into a Akitio Thunder2 Thunderbolt to PCIe box ($219 on Amazon, including a Thunderbolt cable), found a 2 meter HP mini-SAS cable on eBay for $10, and downloaded the demo version of BRU PE for the Mac.


Then I found a guy selling new HP LTO 5 tapes in bulk on eBay for $15 each so I bought 20 of those. Imagine my surprise when I plugged the system into my 5K iMac and it all worked!

So far I’ve copied about 16 TB of data onto tape. I found out that the 1.5 TB tapes will actually hold about 1.35 TB before BRU asks for another tape. And it’s really slow — it takes about 3 hours to record that much to one tape, and another 3 hours if you want to verify data. I don’t know if the standalone systems are faster, but I won’t have a ton of archiving to do after the first pass, so I can live with it. I’m storing the tapes off-site and will keep the hard drive collection for quick restoring until they fail.

The only other expense will be the BRU license for $499, if I decide to keep using it. BRU kindly allows demo users to restore files even after the 30 day trial. I appreciate its ease of use but wish they offered a “light” version for us freelancers who just need to record a few dozen tapes per year. I tried LTFS but so far found software that will recognize the drive but it won’t format a tape. If anyone knows of a reliable, cheap or free LTFS solution that will work with my hardware setup on a Mac I’d appreciate hearing about it.

So it’s not elegant and it took a lot of research, but I’ve got my data archived on tape at last. Good luck to all in finding your own solutions.