Bomb-proofing Our Data

Geek alert! Get ready for the spine-tingling tale of data management and storage…prop up your eyeballs with toothpicks because this is actually somewhat interesting.

First, an ironic truth. The tapeless recording revolution is here, it’s happening. And archiving the data, are you ready for this, requires…more tape.

Once it is recorded, your media has to end up stashed somewhere, and the most stable (30 years) archiving material is tape. Why adopt a tapeless workflow in the first place, then? Good question. Because the best possible imaging is now available only from tapeless systems — there are limits to the data rates that can pass through recording tape, and the higher resolutions and higher quality imaging of digital cinema require speeds that surpass what is available on these recording tapes. That is why we record, instead, to compact flash and hard drives when we shoot RED cameras. But, at the end of the day, archiving your masterpieces still requires a massive amount of storage space to hold the contents of your recording media. And hard drives, while cheap, take up space and are not ultimately reliable.

Archival tape has a 30 year shelf life, is cheap and compact. Enter our LTO-4 Cache-A tape drive. Each tape costs about $50 and holds 800 gb of material. The unit itself isn’t cheap, it cost almost $8,000, which may sound ridiculously over-priced, but when you consider that the an 8 terabyte RAID costs around $2300 and holds, well, 8 TB (becomes around 5 TB if you stripe it RAID 5 to truly make your data recoverable) and takes up a huge chunk of desk real estate, then the cost of the Cache-A begins to make more sense. Small, stackable, inexpensive archival tapes. Unlimited, recoverable, networkable storage.

Our data is the lifeblood of our company. We can’t afford afford to skimp on its protection. And as we move our business more towards the production of feature film and documentaries shot on RED, we need a vast amount of storage. A single feature film will fill around 4-6 of these 800 GB LTO-4 tapes.

I recently purchased a linear tape drive (LTO-4, in geek talk…), which is currently the fastest, largest commercial storage tape medium available. Have a look at this brief snapshot of the history of LTO-4 tape (courtesy of wikipedia, for uber-geeks, the full chart is available at:


Since its inception (LTO-1 in the year 2000), the capacities of LTO tapes have doubled roughly every two years, and the speeds have increased exponentially — with dramatic plans for future increases.

When I look back to 1986, the year that my mother purchased my first laptop, an Epson portable with a flip-up screen and 64 kilobytes, yes, kilobytes of storage memory, it puts the whole journey into perspective. It allowed me to write a ten-page paper (no graphics, of course). If I had to write a 20-page paper, I wrote ten pages and dumped the drive and then wrote the next ten pages. This created an occasional problem…but it was certainly a big leap ahead from the powder blue Smith-Corona electric typewriter and a small vial of liquid paper that I lugged to college for my freshman year.

And today, I am shooting my stories in glorious 4K RAW (now 4.5K, actually, with the most recent RED firmware upgrade…) and storing them on 800 gb archival tape.

Which begs the question…with all of these magnificent tools, have the stories themselves actually improved since my college days??

But I digress!

Anyway, I found this snapshot and thought that it told an interesting story of where we stand right now and where we are headed in the future. The future of story-telling is data management, pure and simple, and with the tools of LTO-4 and RED cameras, I believe we are well-positioned to thrive in that future.


1 Comment

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One response to “Bomb-proofing Our Data

  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read….

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