Magnetic tape is the medium of choice for my offline backups & archives, as it’s got an amazing level of durability when in storage. (LTO Has a 30 year archival rating).
For the smaller stuff, like backing up the web server this very site runs on, another format seemed to suit better. Above is a HP DDS4 tape drive, which will store up to 40GB on a cassette compressed.
I picked this format since I already had some tapes, so it made sense.
Here’s the info for those who want to know. It’s an older generation drive, mainly since the current generation of tape backup drives are hideously expensive, while the older ones are cheap & plentiful. Unfortunately the older generation of drives are all parallel SCSI, which can be a expensive & awkward to set up. Luckily I already have other parallel SCSI devices, so the support infrastructure for this drive was already in place.
On the bottom of the drive is a bank of DIP switches, according to the manual these are for setting the drive for various flavours of UNIX operating systems. However it doesn’t go into what they actually change.
The bottom of the drive has the control PCB. The large IC on the left is the SCSI interface, I’ve seen this exact same chip on other SCSI tape drives. Centre is a SoC, like so many of these, not much information available.
Removing the board doesn’t reveal much else, just the bottom of the frame with the tape spool motors on the right, capstan motor bottom centre. The bottom of the head drum motor is just peeping through the plastic top centre.
Here’s the head drum itself. These drives use a helical-scan flying head system, like old VHS tape decks. The top of the capstan motor is on the bottom right.
Hidden just under the tape transport frame is the head cleaning brush. I’m not sure exactly what this is made of, but it seems to be plastic.
A single small DC motor with a worm drive handles all tape loading tasks. The PCB to the bottom left of the motor holds several break-beam sensors that tell the drive what position the transport is in.
Here’s the overall tape transport. The PCB on top of the head drum is a novel idea: it’s sole purpose in life is to act as a substrate for solder blobs, used for balancing. As this drum spins at 11,400RPM when a DDS4 tape is in the drive, any slight imbalance would cause destructive vibration.
Here’s the drive active & writing a tape. (A daily backup of this web server actually). The green head cleaning brush can be better seen here. The drive constantly reads back what it writes to the tape, and if it detects an error, applies this brush momentarily to the drum to clean any shed oxide off the heads. The tape itself is threaded over all the guides, around the drum, then through the capstan & pinch roller.