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I'm using Bacula but this would pertain to any backup solution.

I'm using LTO5 tapes (1.5TB/3TB), but my data is nowhere near that capacity for the time being. So if I set the retention for my incrementals to 4 weeks, what happens to the tape if it's not full? Does Bacula go to the next tape?

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VolumeRetention in Bacula defines how long Bacula will retain a full tape for.

Once Bacula opens a tape it will continue writing (appending) to it until it is full (unless you have told it to only put one backup on a tape, in which case the tape will be considered "full" when the backup finishes).

A full tape starts the VolumeRetention clock -- Bacula will not recycle and reuse that tape until the VolumeRetention period has has elapsed.

For example, if you fill a tape on Monday at 08:00, and have VolumeRetention set to 3 days the tape will become eligible for recycling on Thursday at 08:01 (3 days from when it was filled).

See the Bacula manual section on Automatic Volume Recycling for more details.

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Ah, so it only goes into effect when the tape is FULL? Ok, so if I start a backup today (Jan) with a retention period of 1 month, but it takes 2 months to fill up. Does that mean I can't use the tape until April? –  luckytaxi Jan 23 '12 at 18:20
    
@luckytaxi Yup -- You can append to it until it's full, and once it's full Bacula won't purge it until the retention clock runs out. In your example if you start using it Jan. 1 and fill it on March 1 it becomes eligible for recycling on April 1. –  voretaq7 Jan 23 '12 at 18:32

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