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April 2014
Issue: March 1, 2010

REVIEW: CACHE-A PRO-CACHE

By: Fred Ruckel & Scott Dominick
PRODUCT: Cache-A Pro-Cache

WEBSITE: www.cache-a.com

PRICE: $9,495

- Easy facility-wide integration
- Robust backup solution
- Tape spanning so no project is too big to be backed up

Our company was in need of an all-in-one solution to safely back-up our data using a method that anyone could access from within our facility. One of the biggest criteria in our decision was ease of use by all our staff. Our solution also had to have staying power and many years of shelf life, unlike that of backing up to removable hard drives.

We had always known about LTO technology and its robustness in the datacentric workflow and we have tried many different back-up systems and software over the years. Working in television these days means mountains of data. Between Red camera files, digital delivery and versioning of commercials, a Terabyte, which used to mean a lot, now isn’t uncommon.

When we were offered the opportunity to review Cache-A’s Pro-Cache we jumped at the chance and are here to report that we finally found a great way to back-up all our data, safely and easily.

SET UP

Once we opened the box it was obvious that this was one mean machine, packing a lot in a small space. It fits in a 3U rack space on a mounted shelf or can be directly mounted with a rack, which is available separately. The Cache-A Pro-Cache is a self-contained LTO4A back-up appliance. At its core is a Linux-based computer driven by a Core 2 Duo, so it is definitely no slouch. After getting it in the rack, we plugged in an Ethernet cable and turned the machine on. Once we typed the supplied default address into a Web browser we were ready to go. It was that simple!

FLEXIBILITY WITH CONNECTABILITY

The Pro-Cache back-up appliance is meant to be used via LAN (Local Area Network) so that multiple computers can have simultaneous access to it at any given time. The basic idea is that you can hook it up on your LAN and from any Windows (SMB), Mac (AFP) or Linux (NFS) system, send files over to an internal 2TB (or 1TB mirrored) NAS (network attached storage) volume called a “vtape” volume. From there your data can be automatically copied over to an LTO4A tape. Alternatively, you can use the NAS as a place for organization by putting your data in a separate folder that is not your vtape, this is like prepping for a back-up. This provided for better organization before going to tape. LTO4A tapes come in a capacity of 800GB uncompressed and 1.6TB compressed. In the first scenario, this workflow is simply “set it and forget it” back-ups made easy.

For more fine-tuned control when working with your back-ups you have access to Cache-A’s main GUI by way of a Web browser, such as Safari or Firefox. Within this interface there’s a file manager used for copying to and from your LTO4A tape. Additionally, there are monitoring tools to get info on your tape, see your back-up in progress, erase your tape, rename your tape and a few other useful functions.

It is also from this Web interface that you have the option of hooking up and accessing an external hard drive over USB or eSata. There is even a P2 card slot. After a shoot you can insert your P2 card into the unit and begin to back up your digital camera master straight to your LTO4A tape. Anyone who has ever lost the data of a shoot day knows this is a huge advancement in technology. Support for both P2 and SxS cards is coming in a future release.

For a more advanced and robust configuration, you can configure your client-shared volumes to broadcast themselves via Samba or NFS and then directly mount them via the mount manager. This method will require a bit more administration because you need the know-how to set up SMB sharing on a Mac or PC and then tell Cache-A what “shares” and how you want it to mount or unmount. In the end, this is the most streamlined process for having one back-up interface to work from — ie, only a Web browser.

Other connectability options are via FTP, SSH, or over a WAN (Wide Area Network), via the Internet.

BONUS NETWORK

A few features that really help round out this product are spanned tape back-ups (this was an added feature as we were testing), automated timed back-ups, and finally a built-in searchable database that is always accessible. The spanned tape back-ups work as expected. If you have more data than what is available on your tape you can pop in another tape and your data continues with the same directory/file structure you had on the previous tape.

Timed automatic back ups, which we didn’t try out (we have another system in place) are automated back-ups based on a schedule. This involves using the mount manager utility to auto-mount shares and then setting up a back-up schedule. Finally, the built-in searchable database is helpful because you can easily find folders or files even when your tape is not mounted. The units can be firmware updated via the Web, which allows for new features to be implemented on existing machines. This equates to not being out of date after the purchase date — typically the case on many devices we buy these days.

FINAL THOUGHTS

After testing out this back-up appliance for a span of about two months, we felt that it performed very strongly in our post production environment. The best aspects of this product are how easy it is to set up and the amount of flexibility you have when it comes to using it with different network protocols, such as AFP, NFS, SMB, FTP and SSH. We were even surprised that we could configure our Autodesk Inferno system to directly mount to  the Pro-Cache and archive projects to be backed up to LTO4A tape. This didn’t work out of the box, but worked perfectly when configured properly. Autodesk Inferno uses a lot of data, and archiving has always been the one thing that was most difficult. Furthermore, backing up worked flawlessly when connecting over SMB on Windows or AFP on a Mac and dragging and dropping a pre-organized folder to the ‘vtape’ volume. Everything was pretty much set it and forget it.

The only setback that my editors had was when having to use two interfaces with more advanced back-up workflows. For example, they would drag and drop their folder via AFP, but then have to use the Web browser interface to double check their work or delete a tape or check to see how much space they have left on a tape. The main issue they had was that the file browser within the Web browser interface wasn’t robust enough to be a one-stop solution. They found they needed to go back to the Finder AFP interface to do most of their file/folder organization. Then they would go back to the Web interface to make sure everything was going as planned. This wasn’t as seamless as it could be and might be resolved in a future release.

Another gotcha that we ran into was when dealing with spanned tapes and files/folders with long file names. In the end this slight negative issue turned into a positive because of how quickly we were able to work with Cache-A’s technical support to find a solution. They issued us an update within a few days, which fixed the problem of long names. Having great technical support gave us the peace of mind that Cache-A stands by their product. This is paramount with owning any product used for the post.

Overall, we feel this product is definitely the best in breed when it comes to LTO4A back-up devices. It’s a top performer because of its multi-user network accessibility and ease of use. To date, nothing has had the feature set and ease of use of the Pro-Cache. This could easily set and become the industry standard back-up solution.

Fred Ruckel (fred@stitch.net) is Creative Director at Stitch in NYC. Scott Dominick heads Stitch's (www.stitch.net) Technical Operations.