The Case of the Trapped Data

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the July, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

During my review of Dulce Systems Pro Q RAID I discovered a whole new can of issues that I wanted to share with you — along with a request for a solution.

First, let’s set the scene. I do almost all my editing on an Intel MacBook Pro system. (While I have nine computers in the office, most are iMacs and Mac Minis for staff and servers, with a trusty G-5 that I use for almost all my writing. The laptop is my only Intel/Mac system.)

I’m a big believer that storage needs to be big and fast and, ideally, safe. However, both “big” and “fast” are terms that rapidly change in the hard disk industry. Currently, I have an eSATA hard drive from LaCie (2 years old), an eSATA S2VR RAID from CalDigit (1 year old) and, now, this new Dulce System RAID that I’m testing.

On the CalDigit system I’ve got about a terabyte of data that I wanted move to the Dulce system and use that data to test how the Dulce works.

Easy to say. Impossible to do.

First, the Dulce Systems RAID uses a connection protocol called PCIe. While much faster than eSATA, it uses an entirely different connector and ExpressCard/34 to attach to my laptop. Neither the CalDigit nor the LaCie support PCIe. There is only one ExpressCard/34 slot on my MacBook Pro — and NONE on the current versions of MacBook Pro, which is ridiculous and I wrote about this last month — so I can’t connect both the Dulce and CalDigit systems.

My data is trapped. I want to move it to a bigger, faster drive, but I can’t.

First, while I could buy an external 1 TB FireWire drive and connect it via FireWire to transfer the data from drive 1 to drive 2, this is not an easy solution if I have several terabytes of video files to transfer.

Second, I discovered that not all eSATA connectors are the same – systems from two different manufacturers use two different eSATA connectors. Both incompatible.

Third, eSATA can’t be daisy-chained. So looping from one drive to another is not possible.

Fourth, if I have an Intel MacPro, which I don’t, I could add multiple cards that allow me to connect the eSATA devices using a multi-port eSATA card and the PCIe device, using an 8x PCIe card and transfer data between them.

But I don’t own a MacPro – yet – so I’m back to being stuck.


I shared my frustrations about the difficulties of moving data between systems with Robert Yeong, director of technical stuff at Dulce Systems. He replied:

If [the other drives] are really eSATA then they should all be able to connect to an eSATA adapter. Sometimes connections are called eSATA but they really are not. eSATA [devices] by design are not daisy chain-able (loop), they are point-to-point connection.


Our PRO Duo-eSATA and HD Commanders are eSATA, that is to say it has an eSATA connector on the back which then connects to a eSATA port on the adapter connected to the computer.


The PRO Q is not eSATA, it is extended PCIe with x1 connection and x8 connection.


So let’s see how we can un-trap your data on a eSATA device and move it to another eSATA device. You will 1st need to have an adapter with enough eSATA ports to support the ‘source’ device then additional ports to support the ‘destination’ device. Depending on the exact equipment, a typical two ported eSATA ExpressCard/34 adapter might or might not have enough ports to do the task.


For example, Example 1: our PRO Duo-eSATA is a two drive unit and have two eSATA ports, one port for each drive inside the enclosure, typically both are used so the two drives can be striped. So if this was on a Mac Book Pro with a two ported eSATA ExpressCard, then you can not hook more eSATA devices to the Mac Book, so your data is trapped as far as getting it off to another eSATA device.


Example 2: Our HD Commander is a five drive unit and have only one eSATA port, it uses an internal Port Multiplier to gang five to one, it’s a pretty simple setup and does not provide internal RAID features, so all the five drives are see as five different devices to the computer (striping is done by the OS). Anyway, since the HD Commander uses only one eSATA port, that
will leave the other eSATA port on the Express Card available, so another HD Commander can be connected to it and used as the ‘destination’ device.


In a Mac Pro setup, there is a 4 ported eSATA PCIe card which give us more options to arrange the ‘source’ and ‘destination’ devices to transfer the data.

Larry adds: Thanks, Robert.

While these options allow us to move data from one eSATA drive to another, neither of these options allow us to move from an eSATA drive to a PCIe drive unless we use a MacPro with two cards: eSATA and PCIe. This is fine if you own a MacPro, but a serious limitation if you don’t.

So here’s a challenge to the hard drive community — as you start to make bigger and faster RAIDS and hard disks, you need to help us figure out how to move data from one incompatible connection format to the next. We can’t count on Apple to support us. Apple seems to be dropping ports on laptops as fast as possible.

As our need for storage continues to escalate, and new connection technology appears, all of us with legacy data are increasingly faced with stranded data which can only slow down the adoption of new technology.

Whether this is a data transfer service, low-cost interconnections, or high-cost interconnections which can be rented and returned when done, this issue of trapped data needs to be addressed.

UPDATE – July 20, 2009

Ben Balser adds:

Don’t forget the MacBook Pro 17″ does have an ExpressCard/34 slot. Also, on this issue of transferring data, if you have access to another Mac, an Ad Hoc Airport connection would work just fine, and is super simple to do. Could have been a mention in there about that, eh?

UPDATE – July 21, 2009

Paul Stratford, adds:

Rather than a slow Ad Hoc airport connection, there’s always Firewire/target mode (only applicable if the system drives are big enough) or ye olde gigabit Ethernet or IP over Firewire.

Larry replies: These are all good points. Thanks for reminding me.


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