Recovering the Past

One of the many projects I’ve been working on lately is restoring data from a hard drive crash that took place years ago. In fact, it was so long ago I no longer remember when it occurred. Looking back over my files it seems to have been sometime in 1996 or early 1997. In any event nearly everything prior to that was lost. When we originally purchased our AST Pentium 90 we got a (HP) Colorado Jumbo 250 tape drive and used it occasionally for backup, though without rotating the tapes. This drive used QIC tapes (we sepcifically used 3M DC2120 120MB tapes) and connected via the floppy controller. Additionally, in Septempber of 1997 we had someone ele use their HP Travan T1000 drive to make a full system backup. After seeing these tapes sit on the shelf for so long I thought maybe I’d have a go at getting some of our old data off them.

Of course the actual AST P90 system was long gone, luckily I had saved the Jumbo 250 drive so I started by digging that out and attaching it to my current system. No go. Apparently the WinXp/2003 NTBackup client didn’t like the way the tapes were recorded. I dug an old Cyrix 200 system out of the basement to see if I could install on old copy of Windows and use that backup program to restore things. Again, it didn’t want to read the tapes. I never knew much about tape backup systems so I started doing some research. I quickyl discovered that tapes really only like to recover from the same software they were created with. Of course, I didn’t know what they had been made with and if I still had it. I scoured the internet and downloded just about every major piece of backup software I could. None of them wanted to give me anything more than the volume name on the tapes. I went on Ebay and found I could get a backwards compatible Seagate Travan drive to read the Travan tapes from September 1997 for about $9 with shipping. That was a no brainer. Of course once I got that drive I had the same problem trying to match the software.

Eventually I got found the software for the smaller Jumbo 250 tapes and got it to work with that drive. I was able to look at the tapes and discovered that the first tape in the set had been recorded over and so it no longer contained a valid catalog for the the other three tapes in that set. I did get a date of the last backup done on those, March 1997. Well, that’s no good. It means there’s pretty much no hope from recovering from the DC2120s. My understanding is that if the catalog file is gone (first tape) there’s pretty much no hope of getting anything off the others. I haven’t found a way to dump the tapes to file, which I would like to do because I might be able to get some ASCII text out of them somewhere…

Onto the Travan (TR1) tapes. It is my belief that these tapes were made with an HP T1000 and it’s included Colorado Backup software. I did get a copy of the software but it won’t work with the Seagate Travan drive I purchased on Ebay. MS Backup gives me the media name but won’t load the catalog. Unluckily, during one of the runs one of the two Travan tapes broke which means it’s useless unless I have it professionally recovered and I’m not willing to spend that much. Luckily, the two tapes were of seperate partitions and not part of a set so hopefully I can still get the data off the other tape. I went on Ebay and ordered a HP T1000 in hopes that I can use that to extract the data. That drive should get mailed out to me on Monday, here’s hoping this works!

SO what have I learned? Well, more than I probably ever wanted to know about backups. First, MS Backup is really just rebranded software from other companies. First it was made by Norton (Win 3.11/DOS6.22), then (HP) Colorado (Win 95), then Seagate, then Veritas and now Stomp!Softare. This in and of itself introduces compatibility problems if you have backups made with “MS Backup”! I also learned about using tape backups in *NIX (yeah, I tried that too) and how you really need the same drive and software it was created on to get the data back. I also found a few nifty sites about working with MS Backup files that I’m sharing with you.

This site has lots of information about the file formats used by MS Backup. It’s mostly focused on floppy backups, but the same information applies to tapes if you can get the tape to dump to file. There’s also some neat GPL software to assit in recovering data from MS Backup files.

This site is someone who’s trying to do a similar thing I am, get data off a bunch of old tapes they have around.


  1. Did you ever ave any luck recovering any of your stuff? I had no idea you were working so hard on this. What else are you up to?