[ Please read my Disclosure Statement on product reviews.]
In this article, though, I want to take a look at a new utility specifically designed for backup and archiving projects to LTO tape: PreRoll Post from Imagine Software.
UPDATE – Aug. 25, 2014
After this review was published, Dan Montgomery, CEO of Imagine Products, sent me some corrections and clarifications on my review. I’ve added them throughout.
As I’ve learned more about backup software and archiving, I’ve also learned there are a number of applications that are all designed to help us save our media and bring it back again when we need it. Some of these programs include: PreRoll Post, BRU, Archiware, YoYotta, even Carbon Copy Cloner – and that’s only listing a few. I hope to write about many of these over the coming weeks.
The watershed moment in tape came in April, 2010, when the LTFS system (Linear Tape File System) was announced by Ultrium LTO, the group that steers the LTO (Linear Tape Open) standard. What LTFS does is allow a tape drive to emulate a hard disk, in that it displays the files stored on that tape in the same window format as a hard disk.
The good news about LTFS is that it exists at all. For the first time, we don’t need to be rocket scientists to be able to figure out what’s on a tape. Additionally, LTFS-formatted tapes can be played in any LTO system that supports LTFS. This includes both LTO-5 and LTO-6 systems from IBM and HP; the two drive manufactures of LTO hardware.
The bad news about LTFS on the Mac is that it is slow. Really slow. And the Finder makes LTFS speeds far worse. While LTFS may look like a hard disk, it operates with the speed of tape; where operations are often measured in minutes, not milliseconds. The other problem with LTFS is that, while it has complete knowledge of the files stored on that specific tape, it has no knowledge of files stored on other tapes.
NOTE: The reason the Finder is so slow is that when it is browsing a tape, it needs to write a hidden file in every folder it opens. Sort of like a “Kilroy was here” statement. With the speed of a hard disk this isn’t a problem. With tape, though, the tape needs to shuttle from the LTFS index at the front to a blank piece of tape at the back to write the file then back to the front to read the rest of the index. It then repeats that for every folder you open. Windows users don’t have this problem, but Mac users do.
For these reasons, and more, backup software was invented. In general, backup/archive software needs to meet four goals:
And, for Mac users, the software needs to workaround the severe speed limitations of the Finder.
As with all things tech, different companies differentiate their products by going beyond these basic four features, for example to create LTO systems that attach as a network device, or provide automated libraries of tapes that can automatically store and retrieve petabytes of data, or combine a RAID with the LTO drive to provide both high-speed storage with long-term backups.
As I was reviewing both the mLogic and 1 Beyond tape drives, I was also talking with Dan Montgomery, CEO of Imagine Products, about their software PreRoll Post, which runs on both hardware systems. This review is an overview of what that software does.
PreRoll Post is a capable backup and archiving system for LTO-5 or LTO-6 devices, with a strong focus on media backup.
Running exclusively on Macintosh systems, when all components of the software are purchased, it can backup any data file, create thumbnails and proxies of supported media files, review proxy files stored on tape, track files stored on multiple tapes and simplify the process of recovering a file from tape in the event the file is damaged or erased from a hard disk.
The software works as advertised, however the ability to create proxy files requires Proxy Mill (sold separately) and the ability to view proxies requires HD-VU, also sold separately.
UPDATE FROM DAN
Actually, ProxyMill is not required to create thumbs – just check the box in Settings > Video > Determine video type for each file to be sent to backup. Also, the thumbs will show up automatically in Retrieve as you’d expect in a Finder type view. [ Larry adds: I fixed my wording. ]
NOTE: For this review, I have not installed nor tried either HD-VU or Proxy Mill.
Product: PreRoll Post
Option: HD-VU ($99.00)
Option: Proxy Mill ($299)
These products are only sold through the Imagine Products website and are not available through the Mac App Store. Depending upon how you set your Macintosh security preferences using System Preferences > Security, you may need to change them to install the software. Since Imagine Products is an “Identified Developer” from Apple’s point of view, you only need to set this preference to “Mac App Store and identified developers.” This is the setting I use for my system in general.
Before you can backup any data, you need to format and mount an LTO tape. See the instructions that came with your tape drive to learn how that’s done. Once the tape is mounted to the desktop, start PreRoll Post and you’ll see the Backup window. This allows us to backup files manually.
UPDATE FROM DAN
This is not necessary. Just stick a tape in the deck and click the “Mount Tape” in PreRoll Post. It will determine if the tape needs to be formatted or not and prompt you accordingly.
Either click the Plus icon in the lower left corner or drag the folders and/or files you want to backup into this window. For instance, here, I’m backing up two folders, both stored on a local RAID.
NOTE: For fastest backup performance, the hard drive or RAID holding your source files should be faster than the tape drive. LTO-6 tape drives record data around 160 MB/second.
Click the Prepare Backup button and a prep window appears. However, if you take more than a few seconds to read it, as I did, the window automatically disappears and the backup starts. I would prefer, when doing manual backups, that this window remain open until I click OK. Especially as a new user, I don’t know what choices I forgot to make.
UPDATE FROM DAN
There’s an option to automatically start or not (wait for user to click a button). It’s in the Settings>Video tab, because video indexing generally takes the longest to accomplish.
At this point, the Backup Progress window appears showing the status of a backup. The inner green circle represents that status of recording the data to the tape. The outer, darker, green circle represents the status of verifying that the data was recorded correctly. When both circles are solid green, the job is complete (see below).
LTO-6 devices write media at about 160 MB/second, though their speed varies throughout the recording process. This translates to writing a gigabyte of data every six seconds – or – roughly 10 GB/minute.
NOTE: LTO-6 tapes hold 2.4 TB of data. This means it takes about five hours to completely fill a blank but formatted LTO-6 tape.
When all the files are transferred, PreRoll Post goes back and verifies that all the data was recorded successfully to tape.
NOTE: LTO-6 tape systems use separate read/write heads. As the tape is being written, the read head is following along making sure the data was written correctly. If it wasn’t, the file is written again in a separate location. The verification process that PreRoll Post does is in addition to the standard data checking of LTO devices.
Um, in case you were curious, the software logs everything it did so you can track down any problem files – or just impress yourself with how much media you’ve created.
For anyone who has ever waited for a backup to finish, you know its about as much fun as watching paint dry; without the benefit of drawing weird shapes with your fingers. PreRoll Post has the ability to specify watch folders, hard drives, or RAIDs, then schedule backups for a more convenient time; such as the middle of the night when no one is around. (Yes, I know. This screen shot shows me scheduling the backup for shortly after noon. That’s because I wasn’t done entering the time… sigh.)
There’s no sense to backup up files that you can’t find and retrieve later. PreRoll Post builds a database of all the files it has archived so you can search for specific files you need.
In this screen shot, I’ve recorded data to two tapes: Tape_001 and Tape_002. (Yes, it is possible to change the displayed name of a tape, if you wish.) Green lights indicate mounted devices or tapes. Red lights indicate unmounted devices or tapes of which PreRoll Post is aware.
NOTE: PreRoll Post records all file information in a central SQL database stored in your main system library.
Here, for example, I am searching for the word “ann,” contained in any file name, using the text search box in the upper right corner of the Retrieve window.
NOTE: Tape drives are VERY single-minded and really tie up your system. If a tape operation is going on, such as recording files to tape, you can display the Retrieve window, but you can’t initiate a search until the tape operation is stopped. Don’t try to get serious editing done while a tape drive is storing or retrieving data.
Highlight the name of the file you want to recover in the left pane, and additional information is displayed in the Notes column in the center.
Drag the files you want to retrieve from the left pane to the right pane.
When all the files you want to retrieve are listed in the right pane, click the Retrieve button in the lower right corner.
A Save window appears asking where the retrieved files should be stored. Pick a location and click OK. In this example, I created a new folder called “Files to Retrieve.” You can name storage locations anything the Finder supports and locate them anywhere. Remember, for fastest performance store them to a location that is faster than the LTO drive.
As with backups, the Retrieval window displays the status of finding and saving the file. When both circles are green, you’re done. Click the Done button.
PreRoll Post has several additional features worthy of mention:
I’ve only been working with PreRoll Post for a few days, so I have not fully tested all its components. From time to time, I found it loses the ability to see a mounted tape, which can be fixed by ejecting and remounting the tape.
As well, I haven’t looked at the two other components of the system: HD-VU and Proxy Mill which are not needed for standard file backup but are very helpful when the principle use of this software is backing up and restoring media files.
Overall, I’m impressed with PreRoll Post. It is not inexpensive, but it makes using an LTO tape drive with LTFS a lot more flexible, a lot faster, and a lot more efficient.
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