Sal Guarisco: Install an LTO Drive

Posted on by Larry

As many of you know, I’ve been beating the drum for better and lower-cost archive solutions for video editors for a while. While LTO drives are the option of choice, they tend to be very expensive. Recently, reader Sal Guarisco sent me his experiences with installing a low-cost HP LTO drive into his MacPro. So let me share what he wrote (I’ve edited this a bit for clarity):

– – –

After I started reading Larry’s book “Final Cut Pro X: Making The Transition,” he enlightened me on page 8 with the knowledge that hard drives can lose data sitting on a shelf and recommended using an LTO (Linear Tape Open) tape system as a long-term backup and storage solution.

After two weeks of online research into the the best set-up that would fit my budget and getting nowhere, I gave Larry a call to see what he recommended. To my surprise, Larry admitted that he had purchased an HP LTO drive but had not gotten it to work with his Mac Pro.

After a few false starts on my own, this is what I learned: LTO-5 (1.5 TB uncompressed & up to 3 TB compressed) is the best way to go, HP, Quantum (and IBM) manufacture almost identical drives; but I went with the HP StorageWorks Ultrium 3000 SAS Half-height external standalone drive. I was able to find it online new for $1625.00.

(My only caution is that HP’s Level 1 tech support for LTO drives is just two people on the West Coast who aren’t very knowledgeable about their product or even their company’s limited Mac support for their tape drives.)

Atto Technologies and LSI manufacture host controller cards that are Mac-compatible and work with tape drives. I went with the Atto ExpressSAS H680 for $313.00 online. Atto’s tech support is 1st class and they are very knowledgeable on the compatibility of their product and tape drives on a Mac.

If you want to run an SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) RAID enclosure as well as a tape drive, I suggest the Atto ExpressSAS R680 RAID controller for as low as $650.00 online.

I chose Retrospect Desktop 9 for my backup software along with their Annual Support and Maintenance for $249.00. This covers one desktop server and four clients. Their tech support as well as their software is also 1st class. I’ve found that if your tape drive is not turned on at start up and you turn it on afterward, the software will not recognize it, but a quick restart resolves this.

NOTE: Retrospect comes with a desktop sever and 5 clients that let you back up 6 machines and work either on wired or wireless networks. If you need more clients, you can buy more. They have great customer support that will answer pre-sales questions.

I’m very pleased with this storage setup and its performance on my early 2008 MacPro dual quad core 2.8 GHz, 18 GB RAM. Expect around 3GB/minute transfer and verify rates and 5GB/minute restore rates. If you add the three extra tape cartridges and head cleaner I got for $180.00, the total cost of my setup is $2367.00. If you do some shopping online, you can find pretty much the same deals. Good luck!

Larry, thanks for the opportunity to help. Your FCP X training course along with your book is great! Once I get a better handle on the software, I’ll dive into the three business tutorials I bought. Keep up the good work!

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Larry replies: Thanks, Sal, for taking the time to write this. For users that don’t own a MacPro, this isn’t an option until a Thunderbolt expansion chassis supporting SAS becomes available at an affordable price. But this is excellent news for MacPro users that want to create an inexpensive LTO archiving solution.

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13 Responses to Sal Guarisco: Install an LTO Drive

  1. We use an LTO-5 drive but found after several months of trying to use retrospect and working with their awful tech support, that we would go with BRU. Retrospect has gone through a couple of different owners recently, and it is obviously paying for it. BRU support has been great.

    What I would really like is a thunderbolt LTO-5 drive (one that goes directly into the tape drive, not the work around that goes to a PCI-e chassis and then the drive).

    • Eric Hansen says:

      I agree with Charles. We’ve been running Dual LTO-5 decks on a Mac Pro with BRU for the last 6 months (and LTO-4 decks for 2 years before that). I would never go back to Retrospect. Too many bad experiences. BRU’s tech support is great.

  2. Mel Feliciano says:

    I’ve been following the developments on LTO for video archiving for a couple of years now and I’m surprise there is not enough discussion about this important topic even in the forums. I’m about to pull the trigger and buy an LTO archiving system (Stand alone). This is what I’m going for:

    I’m on a Mac Pro so installing a HBA card is not a problem.

    HP Ultrium 3000 LTO-5 drive (Half-height ext).
    ATTO R680 (For both LTO5 drive and G-Technology G Speed ES Pro).
    Software: HP StoreOpen with LTLS.

    I watched the HP StoreOpen webinar and it looks like finally the missing link (GUI) is in place for an user friendly workflow. My only reservation is that on the Mac platform the only OS versions compatible are 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard (32bit kernel). I don’t know about any interaction with Spotlight. I’m currently archiving to blu-ray but it is slow. I’m paranoid about hard drive failures and all my hard drives are pretty much full now. Also, I have to archive hours of old analog video tapes. So what do you guys think?.

    @Sal, I’ve been shopping online and can’t find those prices you listed above, at least not from trusty resellers. I don’t know if it is allowed here, but can you provide the names of the resellers you bought it from.

    Your opinions are highly appreciated.

    • Eric says:

      Hey Mel

      I’m also surprised archive, and especially archive on tape isn’t discussed more. I think those of us that began production either in the film world or tape world can appreciate the idea of data tape archiving. I think the newer generation that records to flash media and hard drives doesn’t understand the dangers of archiving to short lived hard drives.

      As Sal addressed above, HP Mac tech support is extremely lacking. I would hesitate to go with their software solution with critical data. Personally, I think it’s pretty telling that their most recent version of the software only supports an OS thats 2 versions behind, and not even 64bit. When it comes to super critical data, I will pay extra for support. That’s why I use BRU. The software has quirks, but I can always get a tech on the phone. ATTO’s support is second to none, but I don’t know how far they would go in helping you with LTO issues.

      Ditto on the prices. I can’t find prices like that from well known resellers anywhere.

  3. Mel Feliciano says:

    Hi Eric. I really appreciate your input. I work for Discovery Latin-America and we use Spectra Logic enterprise solutions with Tandberg Data LTO drives, but now I’m shopping for my own business (side-business). Pretty much myself, a co-worker and a couple of freelancers. It is a self-financed operation, so I’m looking for affordable solutions.

    I’ve been following the slow but steady progress on LTO Ultrium for video archiving from companies such as Tolis Group, Xendata, Hewlett Packard, and Cache-A. This last one, even before they started Cache-A, back in the days when the founders were working for Quantum and created the A-series drives. I think their approach to archiving is very clever but I don’t see myself buying an “appliance”, since they start at $7995, use ethernet, and only come with a 1 year warranty. Xendata workstation solution is Windows based and nowhere to be found in the USA. I remember when Larry interviewed the founder of the Company; their X1500 hardware/software bundle sounded like a good option.

    I like the simplicity promised by Ultrium LTO-5 LTFS, specially now with StoreOpen. I find funny that the HP version of the LTFS only supported Linux and Mac OS for a long time and now that they finally came up with a Windows version it looks more mature than the Unix counterparts. I consider myself platform agnostic and prefer dual platform solutions, but right now I’m using Mac. I’m still keep a Snow Leopard partition so I will use it in the meantime until HP starts supporting the newer OS from Apple. I’m still considering Tolis Group BRU PE but I need to safe money. I think I can stay within my budget if I buy their software and then shop around for the same parts included in the BRU PE bundles. Do you think they will provide the same tech support if I only buy the software, instead of the hardware/software bundle?.

    PS: Waiting for Larry to jump in the conversation and follow up this topic at the Digital Production BuZZ podcast.

    • Eric says:

      My first foray into data tape was the SDLT-600a, which was the Quantum drive that eventually became the basis for Cache-A. The thing I liked the most about the 600a, and the Cache-A, is the simplicity for other users in the office. If you think of it as an FTP server, it makes sense. BRU PE on the other hand, is a bit different. But the Cache-A is expensive, and ethernet is a real bottleneck. We’re driving our LTO-5 decks at about 150MB/s. We also have multiple decks, which would have been prohibitively expensive with Cache-A. Writing 2 tapes at the same time is a huge time saver.

      If you go with BRU PE, I suggest you buy everything from Tolis. When I had issues with equipment, they dealt with HP directly, which was nice. They will still give you support if you buy their software/support package. but they may be more hands off if you have a deck or card problem, and not a software problem.

      btw, i’m still not using LTFS, even though we’re using LTO-5.

      If this is for your side business, what about using your other company’s LTO system? I write tapes for my own projects on one of my client’s decks as part of our trade. I don’t actually own an LTO deck, but I have access to them, which is a big money saver. The LTO tapes just act as a backup to my archive of hard drives. I only need to access an LTO tape when a hard drive dies.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      I am watching this thread and agree with many of the comments here.

      My feeling is that LTO-5 is the system of choice for archiving. That existing systems are too expensive and that with exceptions like Cache-A and The Tolis Group, not Macintosh-centric.

      I am continuing to ask LTO vendors – like Ultrium, Cache-A, and The Tolis Group – to continue developing lower cost solutions that can be used by independent producers.

      We all need to archive our projects – and, for many, the costs are still out of reach.


  4. I feel like anything that isn’t thunderbolt aware will be out of date soon. I hope that the companies who make the LTO-6 drives, which are supposed to come out shortly, will make them thunderbolt capable–and that BRU will make their software compatible with it. That would be ideal for me. I would have a self-contained editing station then. I also think a thunderbolt drobo with a thunderbolt LTO-6 would be perfect.

    • Eric says:

      Thunderbolt is a form of PCIe. SAS uses PCIe, so it certainly isn’t difficult to make one work with the other. right now that means getting a TB to PCIe adapter and putting an SAS card in it. in the future, that will mean TB cases for the LTO drives.

      personally, i wouldn’t wait for LTO-6 or TB drives if you need to write tapes now. the great thing about the LTO spec, is that each drive is designed to write current and one gen back, and read up to 2 gens back (ie, an LTO-5 deck will write to 5 and 4, and will read 5, 4 and 3). plus when LTO-6 tapes become available, LTO-5 tapes will still be cheaper per TB for a year or so (it was the same with 5, 4 and 3). for many producers, these decks are replacing HDCAM and D5 decks. LTO-5 decks and ATTO cards are a steal in comparison. if you need to write tapes now, buy equipment now. i just had a wildfire get within a few hundred feet of my office, so i’m pretty fired up (pun intended) on a good archive plan NOW and not waiting for an ideal later.

  5. Mel Feliciano says:

    I’m not waiting for LTO-6 either, I need to find a solution this year. I know there is pretty much a consensus that LTO Ultrium is the way to go but there still one thing that I don’t like about the format… It’s tape based. The random access limitation does not bother me, but tape is prone to get jammed inside the deck and get mold if not properly stored. These are some of the reasons why I always hoped for a tapeless solution. There is actually a tapeless alternative aim to compete directly with LTO, it’s called ODA (Optical Disc Archive), and it is from Sony. I know, I know, this the same company that created the Betamax, the Mini-Disc, and the Super Audio CD (with Philips), among probably a hundred of other tape and optical formats.

    The drive and media are going to start shipping soon. According to the press release, the ODA system is going to be “affordable” (they probably mean price per Gigabyte). I’m sure the drive is still going to be expensive, since they try to compete head to head with the Ultrium format. The largest cartridge can hold the same amount of data as an LTO-5 tape (1.5 TB) and the drive can be connected to any computer with an USB 3 SuperSpeed port. The estimated shelf life for the ODA media is 50 years vs 30 years for LTO. There are many industry heavy hitters onboard testing the system and providing feedback. Some of them are currently using LTO in their libraries and looking for an alternative.

    I just need a stand alone drive for my Mac Pro, so the current LTO-5 drives with Mini-SAS are fine. The format is mature and the media is widely available. The tape transport mechanism in the LTO drives seen to be more robust and problem free than the one in a VTR. But I’ll keep my eye on the ODA format, it’s a very interesting proposition. But not in its current state. Right now it looks more like a glorified CD changer (Up to 12 quadruple-layer discs in one cartridge) than a well thought media format.

    PS: What happened to the Holographic Disc and media in the size of a credit card?

    • Eric says:

      I don’t know the format, it might have been Blu-Ray, but I saw a small refrigerator-sized disc changer for data at NAB and i thought, this company just don’t understand producer’s needs.

      I would be leery of anything new saying they have a shelf-life of 50 years. tape for data has been around longer than any other data medium. Video and film producers might not have heard of data tape, but the corporate, banking, medical and government industries have been using it for decades. it’s very mature and isn’t going anywhere. plus, you wouldn’t want to leave an LTO tape on a shelf for 30 years anyway. you will want to migrate it to a newer medium before those 30 years are up. unlike film, data can be transferred to new media without generational loss. i used DLT decks for authoring DVDs and LTO decks for data, and i’ve never had a tape jam. but just in case, that’s another reason why i make 2 sets of every tape.

      in the late 90s, all the CD-Rs i bought were gold, 50 year “archive grade” discs. today, about half of them still work. with many of them, the top layer just peeled right off. i don’t trust new media formats at all. using multiple forms of media is a good protection plan, as outlined in the 3-2-1 concept:

      3 copies
      2 different types of media
      1 off-site


  6. Melvin Feliciano says:

    I’m glad to see that the LTO-6 drives and media are finally out. Hopefully that means lower prices for LTO-5 drives and media. Also, there is a new version of LTFS with StoreOpen from HP and it is compatible with Mac OS X 10.5.8, 10.6, 10.7, and 10.8 (all the main big cats). There is still the limitation with Spotlight not seeing the files inside LTFS though.

    Now lets see which one of the trusty retailers has the best price on the HP 3000 external SAS LTO-5 drive, and the ATTO R680 HBA.

  7. Matt Davis says:

    Sorry to wake this thread after over a year of dormancy – but hey: LTO6 on Thunderbolt is here!

    I’ve been using JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks), mirroring work drives, then when full, using the drive and its mirror as an archive plus a Client Copy on a USB3 drive (WD Passports usually) as an off-site archive. With over 70 LaCie Quadras at the office, and shoeboxes full of their bare-drive mirrors at home (to my wife’s chagrin), and a number of drives lost by clients, I have been promising myself that as soon as the whole thing becomes viable, I’ll find a better solution.

    So there’s now the mTape LTO6 drive working on Thunderbolt. The tapes are expensive in the UK – £50 inc 20% sales tax – and only a little less than a bare drive of equivalent capacity (2TB). But I guess that my main sticking point is reliability.

    Two of my clients have LTO5 solutions in-house to back up their footage of big meetings and conferences, and I’m called in to edit or re-edit them at a later date (glamour!). Trouble is, most times when I get the stuff unpacked from a tape backup on my work drive, something hasn’t worked, clips are missing or garbled, projects are corrupted and so on. This is the same for both clients, and so I have stayed well away from LTO.

    I get talking with the UK distributors of the mTape, and they tell me that there’s a huge difference between ‘Backup’ and ‘Archive’ – and that video editors shouldn’t touch the ‘Backup’ solutions installed by most IT Integrators. I’m willing to accept this – but does that ring true to you folks?

    Also, I think I’ll have to take the archive costs on the chin, as few clients of mine (Agencies, mostly) are willing to accept charges for archiving beyond the cost of a WD Passport drive and a little time to copy it. Hardly the 3:2:1 strategy we should be adopting. How have others passed on the cost of archiving (assuming that not all of us are shooting multi-million features and doccos, or have Completion Guarantors and production insurance requiring LTO ‘backup’ as a sine qua non)?

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