This last NAB (NAB 2011), I had a mission. Well, other than working as a demo artist for Matrox that is. My mission was to search for a reasonably priced archiving solution of tapeless media that all of us not-so-big production and post production people could afford. There are plenty of options for the places that can afford to drop $10,000 – $20,000…and need to back up footage for a dozen or more projects each month. The majority of places I am hired at are small shops…five to twenty or so people. Or I myself am hired with my system to work on a project. IN those cases, $10,000 is a bit out of reach. Which is why I use a cheaper method of archiving tapeless masters…hard drives.

I know my current archiving solution is flawed. I know that hard drives will fail…it’s just a matter of WHEN they will fail. I cover my bases a little better by archiving to TWO hard drives…a manual RAID 1 if you will (material mirrored on each drive)…so if one drive goes, I have the backup. And I make a practice to spin them up at least once a month. And this is a VERY inexpensive way to archive. I have a $110 eSATA four drive enclosure…then a $60 Sonnet eSATA card…and use 1TB bare SATA drives (bare meaning “not inside an enclosure”) that run about $55 each.  Or you can use a drive dock that costs about $30.  Now that’s cheap!  By both meanings of the word.  Inexpensive, and not THOROUGHLY reliable.  Although I will state for the record that I have only had ONE drive fail in the past two years.

What lead to this search?  Well…in brief, I am working on a show that archived their P2 masters to LTO4 tape, using the setup that existed at the large post facility that they were editing in.  They needed to recover one P2 card that had an interview they wanted to use in their current project…but, there was a problem.  The post facility folded, and while gave the production the tapes, the issue was that they were archived using proprietary software and the ONLY place in Los Angeles…the WHOLE of L.A….that also used this software, was backed up for 8 weeks.  And to even LOOK at the footage you needed to purchase the software and get a 1 year service contract…and buy the drive.  Oh, and a PC to run it.  Over $15,000 just to unarchive one P2 card.

OK, enough back story, now to what I found at NAB 2011.

The one place that EVERYONE pointed me to was CACHE-A.  And they were telling me that they really were reasonably priced, and were standardized…not proprietary.  Standardized…I like the sound of that.  So I went to the booth, got the presentation…and liked what I heard.  CACHE-A is a software solution that also involves a consortium of LTO manufacturers: Quantum, IBM, HP to name a few.  So if one manufacturer leaves and no longer supports CACHE-A…you have alternates. And there is no proprietary software involved…the interface is WEB based.  You use a browser.  Now, there is a LOT of information about these guys, so I suggest you visit the website and dig in.  But one thing I wanted to point out were the products.  They have a couple devices…Prime CACHE-A and Pro CACHE-A... that archives from MULTIPLE tapeless sources…both to tape and to internal hard drives.  Perfect for field backup, or backup at the hotel at the end of a shoot…because they archive to hard drives.  THEN you can archive to the tapes. They work with multiple software types, including HD Log, CatDV, R3D Data Manager, Marquis…MANY options.

Wow…that sounds great!  Amazing.  Non-proprietary, works with many sources, many different LTO manufacturers.  But then comes the price point.  $10,000 for the Pro CACHE-A and $8000 for the Prime CACHE-A.  That was out of the price range I was looking for.  But seriously, for all that it does, I’d expect it to cost that much.  And again, if I was a larger facility, I would have no hesitation in buying it.  It is literally the GOLD STANDARD of archiving. But, the price point is out of the range I was looking for…out of range for the smaller shops. So I needed to look somewhere else.

A couple people recommended something called BRU, by the Tolis Group.  “They are more in your price range.”  And they were right. As you can see from the link provided, they have several packages, starting from $800 and ending at $7200.  With many great options in between.  Check them out for yourself.

The one that I liked best was the Edit Bay Production Desktop (see the picture above).  It comes with the drive, a tape, a cleaner tape, the software, the ATTO SAS card to connect to the drive (so a Desktop machine is required), a software license and one year of support.  NOTE…support isn’t needed to use the software.  Just needed for you to call and say “HELP ME!  I’m stuck!”  All of this for between $3000 (LTO4) and $4000 (LTO-5).  Very much within the price range of the small companies.  And 1TB tapes run about $120.  Perfect.

I will say this…it is proprietary.  And yes, that is one thing I was hoping to avoid.  But, as I was told by the representative, they won’t leave you stranded.  Their main objective is RESTORING your footage.  Backing it up is one thing, but the reason you back up is so that you can get to it later.  To recover the footage.  And that is one thing they will never stop you from doing.  They know how important it is to recover the data.  When he heard my story of trying to get the one P2 card from the drive, he said “EXACTLY! Why are they doing that to their customers?”  So if you want to recover your footage, all you need to do is have a drive, and the software.  And they offer a 30 day demo of the software, free of charge.  So you can recover everything you need.  And if the demo expires…the RECOVER option STILL WORKS!  And if it doesn’t, call the company and they’ll extend the demo to ensure it works.  So we won’t get stuck with a bunch of tapes full of archives and no ability to unarchive them. That is priceless. Customer support comes first.  That is a BIG selling point.

I know I’m not going into every detail of both options…for that you need to go to the links provided and dive in.  Now, I’m off to try to convince a couple small companies that BRU is the way to go for them.  And tell the BIG company that I know was looking, about CACHE-A.  And start saving up for a BRU system myself.  If I drop a drive, I’m hosed.  Drop a tape?  No problem.