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Old-ish LTO tape drives For backup on a desktop PC

Ok so i was in the mine craft server the other day and LTo tape drives came up , and i have been looking this over as a cheap backup solution for a lot of data. I have been a data hoarder since the late 90’s. and was hoping some one withe some real Xp could guild me through what i need to set up my own LTO-4 - 5 tape drive in my desktop pc.

I’d like this to be sort of a default idiots guide to a cheap tape backup guide for other people as well so if you have usefull information or questions please add your thoughts.

I was told wendel was the guy to ask here.

Ok so to start i have a old windows 7, I7-3770k, 16gb, 780gtx with a asus sabertooth z77 mobo thats about due for upgrade /replacement and its in a cm storm trooper case, thats id like to use.

I’m looking at eBay at something like a quantum lto-4 or 5 SAS drive.

1.Fiber channel drives are really cheap but i realize thats they are cheap because they require a lot more knowledge to set up as they are similar to networking. So i think i want to avoid these.

  1. Sas is more expensive but seems easier to set up.

  2. Are any of these drives proprietary? is there a certain brand to avoid , or one that has better compatibility/ driver support ?

  3. I realize a desktop pc wont have a sas connection and will have to purchase a PCI-E HBA what is ideal for this application ?

  4. Will i need any specific cabling or consideration for power other than a standard sas cable or the internal power supply?

  5. WIll i need drivers ? or will the drive self recognize ?

  6. What software will i need to make backups , what are some options for that ?

I think thats all i have for now I’m sure there’s more that will come up.

Id really be grateful for you time and help with this.

4 and 5 both can handle about 200 full tape capacity writes
LTO 4, 56 passes to fill the drive
11200 passes expected durability 11200/56=200
LTO 5, 80 passes to fill the drive
16000 passes expected durability 16000/80=200

that’s my math at it anyway

5 will have the capacity advantage

as for which gen overall to use idk

something to keep in mind is this qoute from wikipedia
As HDD prices have dropped, disk has become cheaper relative to tape drives and cartridges. As of 2019, at any capacity, the cost of a new LTO tape drive plus one cartridge is much greater than that of a new HDD of the same or greater storage capacity. However, most new tape cartridges still have a lower price per gigabyte than HDDs, so that at very large subsystem capacities, the total price of tape-based subsystems can be lower than HDD based subsystems, particularly when the higher operating costs of HDDs are included in any calculation

also something to keep in mind, not only writing data reduces lifespan but reading data does as well

Is that the tapes life ? i’m only interested in cold storage so id be writing once and reading less than 10 times.

12 posts were split to a new topic: Cold Storage Media Discussion

I’d actually like to know about this as well, also for cold storage applications.
I think there’s a possibility of a decent amount of value if you plan to use the LTO drive for more than just yourself, such as allowing family or friends to plug in to get some data backup, but it’ll come down to how much data they actually all have. Maybe when everyone is a digital data hoarder.

unfortunately, since it’s not consumer-facing technology, reliable information is a bit hard to obtain, and the entry cost is prohibitive. afaik, the older LTO revisions, which you can get cheaper used drives on ebay for, don’t really make a lot of sense, as the tapes aren’t saving enough money to make up for the drive cost, and you also need to consider that the drives do fail over time. Basically, buying a used or refurbished tape drive would be like buying a used or refurbished harddrive, but you can swap the platters(tapes) yourself.

It’s sad that it’s really really hard to justify LTO unless you’re a media corporation looking to cold storage large amounts of source data for your constantly produced market media.

afaik, solid state for cold storage isn’t really a good idea at all. Better off with blurays than flash for sitting on a shelf, and you can expect optical media to rot it’s self into oblivion over the course of a couple decades.

Also, I don’t really have anything to contribute to the topic in the end. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

12 posts were merged into an existing topic: /dev/null

My experience with tape drives:
I recently bought an IBM LTO Ultrium 4 tape drive on ebay for below 200€ because i am a hardware hoarder. I already bought a pcie x8 to SAS adapter card from aliexpress for ~25€. For the first setup i tried was this: Thinkpad x220t with a expresscard to pcie adapter in which i put the SAS adapter card. The adapter card was then connected to the tape drive and i needed an external psu to power the drive. I was impressed that it worked on the first try. The Tape Drive appeared under /dev/st0 in Arch Linux and with the help of i created my first backup. I just bought random LTO-4 cartridges from ebay and amazon and they just worked.
This was my experience with SAS tape drives at the moment.
I also want to test if this adapter works to save a pcie slot:


Yes You, Spork and i were talking about this in MC, this seems really simple.

TYVM for this.

If its really this simple i may just buy a lto-5 drive and start messing around, a set up like this can be had from ebay for around 500-600USD including a box of new tapes.

I found this in another thread i think ? ill read up on this when i have some free time. But ill leave this here.

Also to add specifically I’m looking for something that can back up a significant amount of data, be thrown into and ammo can and be placed in a cold cellar an live like that for years unless needed.

Hard drives are less than ideal for this.

Tapes are all plastic with a metal oxide film and are very simple mechanically, they seem pretty bulletproof considering tape has been used for 60 plus years.

Some notes if you’re going to do this:

LTO capacities are often stated as compressed capacities. The actual capacity is half, or less, sometime they specify with like 2.3x or 2.5x capacity. Look at the uncompressed capacity and know your dataset.

LTO is misleadingly-expensive until you are working with A LOT of tapes. Used drives aren’t that expensive, and cleaning tapes help prolong the life of the drive.

As @GigaBusterEXE said, tapes are not meant for a lot of re-writes. Because of that a lot of thought should be given to backup strategy. Full backup quarterly, and differential backups…weekly? two weeks? monthly? What makes sense for your dataset.

I worked with a large bank and tapes were archived “forever” once a quarter (pulled out of rotation) and we had monthly full backups with iirc weekly differential backups. The data sets didn’t change much, just more data was added.

Tapes do NOT have “good” wear leveling, so we were seeing tapes wear out after only ~20 cycles.

That’s another data point on “If you’re using tapes, you’re probably using hundreds of tapes”

Tapes by themselves are expensive. Crazy expensive. It’s cheap if yo have huge tapes but LTO4/5 is not super ideal. At $30-50 tape, plus the cost of the drive, that’s a lot of external hard drives you could buy instead.

Though you didn’t state it on your original post, I gather from the original yeeted posts you just don’t want to go with external hard drives. LTO capacity is way, way less than 18tb (unless you get into expensive-tapes territory) and losing 18tb at once is painful.

I can tell you that the shelf life of tape is indeed much more than HDD but I have a project with a very, very large collection of drives that have been used for archival purposes. Some of the drives in the collection are old. How old? When Miniscribe was a brand old. The rate of “pull drive, spint it up, pull data. Oops it’s dead?” is about the same, or better than “Pull old tape, shove it in drive, read data back successfully. oops it’s shreded the tape?” In practice what is hard on mechanical hard drives is just handling and moving them around. If they don’t move around much and are properly stored (mostly archival with seldom read) it’s fine.

So if you don’t mind spending a lot more for tapes, for not a lot of gain (again, unless you plan on having hundreds+ of tapes)

the tape connection doesn’t mater. Ideally, you would set it up in a networked machine and do everything over the network rather than direct attached. Linux is, by far, the best backup option for that.

As somone who has had to dig out ancient tape software to restore ancient backups (pre-symantec Arcserve which was the industry-leading software at the time), linux has never let me down in this respect. I’ll take a pic later if there’s enough interest. I have a DDS auto-loader that is SCSI-II and, to this day, is still works perfectly under Linux. It’s got to be nearly 30 years old at this point. Learning the ways of tar and scsi-generic on linux would be good advice.

ZFS, as a file system, dovetails nicely with “backup just what’s different from this point in time” (useful for either incremental or differential backups) because zfs automatically knows that because of the way it’s built and its transactional nature. Makes both backup and restore as fast as it possibly can be.

Backup speed to tape can otherwise be slow because it tries to organize the files into continuous pieces as it goes, which can cause an I/O storm.

Fiber Channel or SAS doesn’t matter much on Linux. FC you see more often with drives/enclosures that have auto loaders and more than one tape. At that point you’ve got a tape drive that can manage two or four simultaneous iops, which is an hilariously big deal.

Backup Strategy, Scripts and Software depend a lot on what is being backed up. No one sane is doing something like Full Backups, nightly, unless they have a tiny amount of data or need to be able to restore as quickly as possible but otherwise aren’t doing a high availability/replication solution for whatever reason.

LTO-5 Drive (go for new/sealed. Used ones are probably near EoL. We never surplus these because you never know when you’ll need a spare to read an old tape as… yes… backward compatible… but with LTO it’s usually iffy or n/a more than one or two generations back).

Assume $200. Tapes are $30 best case scenario.

1.5tb for $30.


2tb enterprise class SAS drives, ~$17.00 per drive. All you need is a SAS hotswap enclosure to read them, which is less than $200. You might have to jump through a hoop to format them from 520 bytes to 512 bytes but… Linux don’t care.

You can get cheaper 2tb SATA disks for $10-20 drive, too, and use a suuuuuper cheap USB to Sata docky thing.

Those sas disks also have built-in diagnostics to tell you exactly how worn-out they are. It’s not great when you get drives with 10 years of power-on time, but a lot of the time these enterprise drives have less than 5 years of PoH and that’s basically brand new.

then it’s just a matter of storage of the medium. Put the drives in a sealed tub like the ziploc ones office supply places sell, with the recommended dessicant, and they’re good for ever, even in “garage” type environments with thermal cycling (because sealed, and dessicant)

At the high capacity * a lot of tapes end, it can make sense. Used ebay tapes are Bad News Bears because of the low # rewrites. Plus don’t run up the prices of that because archivists are buying those to look for good stuff from company-closed-forever liquidations to upload to the internet archive.


Hmm, this answers alot , and also questions my sanity…

I’m considering lto- as a last resort backup… I am already using a Nas for random access and making separate backups on hard drives.
However its getting out of hand as data and backups are staring to get a little out of had financially.

So I’m looking at a way to not have a storage pool a hard drive backup and a backup to the back up.

I’m in a position where i’m backing up valuable data thats has a very marginal income ratio

I’m aware of this and would am looking at the uncompressed data value.

I cut that last comment off early , ill share some pictures. :smiley:

ZFS particulars may make some of this much easier to handle in terms of do a “big” dataset backup yearly, store that at your bank or somewhere safe. ZFS “knows” what you backed up. Then by the end of the year the backup you’re managing “locally” is just what changed in that year, which will often be much, much easier to manage in terms of size and complexity.

In my experience when things are out of hand it’s simply because the backups are just random, and need strategy and organization.

Split your data into logical groups, strategize your backups. Leverage differential or even incremental backups.

OK so I’m not going to pull out or show all my stuff , there’s no need to. I have had really good luck with hard drives but I’m starting to get drives with smart warnings and I’m terrified that if i don’t have several method of back up ill lose stuff permanently.

But i have 3 50 cal ammo cans as shown. Full.
I have 6? esata usb 3 enclosures.

most of it is hoarded data , there’s raw video and video encodes as i have been doing videography and its really going crazy with the amount of data being produced.

And your right i have no set schedule for backups and alot of disorganized data and I’m also terrified to start moving data off these drives to organize it all .

SO my strategy was this organize it all onto a large raid array , segment that data off into chunks that i can put on smaller hard drives for a rapid backup then have tape for a back up to the backup.
then make a tape backup i can store in a offsite location for archive.

Ok wendell, thanks for all this . There’s a lot to look at here and it will take me quite a while to absorb all that you have posted.

I’m still feeling like tape is still viable in my application however , i now believe that Lto-6 would be the minimum i would want to invest in.
due to what you stated above.

So im thinking something like this.

Now this way i can keep commonly use files on the nas, make backups of files i may need to pull out and use frequently on hard drives. And for files that i might not need but once but want a copy just in case. Also having a backup to the backup, in case of failure or catastrophe…

So i’m in for 1500USD for 50TB of backup. That’s really reasonable and please if any one has a better cost ratio for a cold backup PLEASE I’m open to that.

OK as you can see i go beyond reasonable methods to keep my drive’s safe.

Yikes!!!, i remember cassette tapes getting eaten back in the day…Ughhhhh

And it seems like it may also be simply be easier like you said to spend 1000$ on 20 2tb wd blues and kinda keep doing what i have been doing.

I guess there’s no perfect solution, I’m wondering when the 3d optical drives i heard of years ago will be viable.

I hope we get something like this soon but i doubt it

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Yep dude , thats exactly what i was thinking of but couldn’t think of the name.

I’ve always thought it would be pretty cool to make a small robot jukebox to load Blu-ray discs into a computer for backups. As far as I know nobody has bult one for this purpose.

There is a “Digital ripstation” for reading many discs and it has all the requisite hardware, but I have never heard of one that integrates into the filesystem with reads & writes both.

they have something like this already