And where shall we store?

August 27, 2015

I seem to have had a bit of a bad run recently. First of all, my External Drive broke: a 3TB Seagate that was primarily there for my Media collection and some local backup. Now, a matter of weeks later (and two weeks since the replacement, a 2TB Toshiba, entered service), the disk in my 4 year old Dell Tower is no more. That this is no more than an annoyance is because, like all good former IT People, I have everything backed up – courtesy of a paid subscription to Livedrive that means once I have a working system on there, I can restore everything back to it – well, the important stuff anyway.

It has made me think though about the nature of computer storage and backup, particularly for those of us in the home or home office.

Once upon a time one of my jobs included taking the weekly backup tapes (mostly DLT Tapes) from the Server Room to a secure room in another building, and bringing the next set back. I don’t think it works quite the same way now, but certainly at the time that was just how you did it; the tapes weren’t cheap, but in terms of cost and transportability it was hard to find an alternative. They were however slow; trying to recover a mistakenly deleted file wasn’t a five minute job, especially if it was near the end of a weekly tape. Even then, my boss was arguing (somewhat presciently in my opinion) that the better option was to back up to another hard disk, and then onto tape – making recovering lost files quick, and also meaning that an over-running backup (quite likely with ever larger data volumes) was less likely and so the problems of files being locked etc. would be less of an issue.

In the home, this is now by far the cheapest option. There was a point where some people might consider toting their own tape drive, but with faster interfaces meaning external Hard Disks are fast enough for most, it’s more likely that people will spend maybe £40 on a 1TB external drive and either manually copy or use some form of backup software to do the job for them – if they backup at all.

With the External Drive failing though, I started to wonder about other options. I did lose data – as Livedrive charges extra to cover external disks, it wasn’t included – although it was to an extent recoverable even if it has meant me spending large amounts of time re-ripping my DVD Collection. (Don’t try this at home folks, as apparently I’m breaking the law….) So long and painful was the process though that I decided I’d prefer not to have to do it again if there was a choice; initially this meant trying something radical with the failed disk (opening it up to see if it was just the head sticking – again, don’t try this at home unless you are effectively writing off the disk in any case) which didn’t work, and then wondering whether to look instead at a NAS Solution; a two drive setup with Disk Mirroring maybe? Suffice to say that cost is a factor, and I may instead look at getting a large internal drive, relegating the external to a backup device and making it possible to back up the media to Livedrive as well.

I also took a look at SSD storage – no moving parts, less to go wrong – but while capacities up to maybe 240GB can be had for not too much money, the cost is still prohibitive when it comes to storing the sort of volume I need for the media library. A 1TB drive currently retails for about £250 – and I’d need two of them to match the capacity of the 2TB Toshiba drive that cost me less than £60; not much less than ten times the cost then, and while SSDs may have less to go wrong they are still not everlasting. I’m tempted to get a small one – a 120GB for less than £40 would be about right for my OS to live on, and speed up the computer – but it’s going to be some time yet before SSD can really challenge in terms of genuinely high capacity drives and even then you suspect that in raw price per GB Hard Disks are going to have the edge for many years to come.

Of course, local backup is only part of the solution and this is where a Cloud Backup really scores. One of my “What If” scenarios is “What if there was a fire?” If I lost all my devices, temporarily or permanently, what could I do? Well, with a combination of Dropbox, Evernote, Gmail and its associated Calendar, the answer is that providing I can get to a web browser, I can function – and with a fast enough connection, I can get all my stuff back from my Cloud Backup too. Hopefully I’ll never need to – but I can’t help but wonder: how many people, every day, discover that they really should have made sure that they had offsite backup? Enterprises have been doing it for years; in some ways its never been easier to do; but you can’t help but think that for many, it’s something they only think about once it’s too late.