External Hard Disks vs NAS

One of the most memorable (and true!) phrases I have heard over the years relating to computing is “data will always expand to fill the available storage capacity”. This was true in the 80’s when we had 5MB hard disks and it’s still true today when we have 5,000MB hard disks. We still fill ’em to the max, we just put different stuff on them but the same question remains “What do I do with all this STUFF???!!!”.

So what’s the big deal? If I run out of space on my hard disk, I can just keep plugging in external USB hard drives forever! Sure! Until something fails!!! Trust me; hard drives WILL fail, it’s just a matter of when. The failure seems to occur at the most inconvenient time possible; when the report is due or you haven’t backed up your data for the past several months. How does a person protect themselves from this inevitable disaster? Keep your valuable data in at least two locations at all times; preferably more.

Data storage and backup is a balance between cost, convenience and risk. With this in mind, there are many, many options. Depending on your needs, one of these scenarios may work for you:

  • Don’t do anything. Not really a solution at all but I deal with people who do this all the time! All it takes is a simple mechanical failure, theft, act of God or someone plugging in a space heater and you’re back to where you started; nowhere!!! Needless to say, I don’t recommend this approach at all!
  • Simple local backups provide an adequate degree of safety for most people. Typically a backup is performed to an external USB hard disk. In case of problems, data can be restored very quickly from this USB disk, unless of course someone breaks into your location and steals your computer equipment!
  • On-line backups provide a good degree of protection but there is a monthly service fee charged for this service. The advantage of this method is that if you have a fire or theft, your data is stored at a trusted location such as Backblaze or Crash Plan so you can restore your stuff to your new computer with a minimum of hassle. The down-side of this approach is that depending on the amount of data you have, it can take DAYS to restore your system!
  • RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) can provide an increased level of reliability in that (depending on how they are configured) the failure of a single or possibly multiple disks does not result in the loss of any data; the defective hard disk is simply replaced. The up-side to a disk array is that they provide instant access to huge amounts of data. The down-side; this data must be backed up periodically either to another hard disk or an off-site solution such as Crash Plan. A disk array is NOT a replacement for a backup. Period!
  • What does Pete do? I use three disk arrays (A pair of Drobo-FS units and a Promise array) to provide high-reliability data storage. I periodically back up the data on the disk arrays to external hard disks, which I store off-site and the absolutely crucial The-IRS-will-send-you-to-jail-if-you-loose-it stuff is backed up twice onto optical media as well.

OK, I get it. I need to back up my data but what’s the best solution for me?

  • Well, for most people, a simple Apple Time Machine backup to an external hard disk is what they’re after. It provides the ability to restore your complete computer quickly and easily. For those who use laptops, Apple’s Time Capsule provides a very good all-in-one solution, combining a first-rate wireless router and a method of storing those backups without any wires connected! This means that you can be sitting on the couch watching your favorite shown on the Military Channel (or for you ladies, the Lifetime Movie Network) :-) doing a little surfing while watching your show, while your computer is automatically backing up over your wireless network. This by far the most convenient option for most folks.
  • For people who are a little more cautious, a combination of Time Machine backups to an external drive or Time Capsule combined with an on-line solution like Carbonite or Mozy will settle their nerves. You have the speed of a local restoration along with the security of off-site storage in the case of hardware theft.
  • For the folks who have huge amounts of data, a combination of NAS/RAID, Time Machine backups and off-site physical storage will probably fill the bill.

If I’ve muddied the waters seemingly beyond the point of no return, then please give me a call and we can discuss your individual needs and come up with a solution to your backup and storage issues.