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Posts Tagged ‘RAID’
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Back in 2007, my BFF Jay Pechek sent me a bunch of Maxtor drives. Maxtor’s external hard drives are supposed to have a 5-year warranty, but there’s a little trick with this Free Stuff I get from PR people. When you don’t actually buy something, and don’t have a receipt, you can’t make use of the warranty in the ordinary way. Jay said “I’m your warranty; if anything goes wrong, call me.”
Okay, fine, except for one small thing—within less than a year, Jay had changed employers and started working for Buffalo Technology.
And wouldn’t you know it, one of the drives, the OneTouch 4 Plus I call Mama Bear, is wonky. This is a technical term meaning that I’m getting error messages saying “Windows—delayed write failed. Could not save all the data for…” And that means that the drive stops talking to the computer at unpredictable, but increasingly frequent, moments. Which makes it somewhat less than useful, or at least, less than reliable, and what good is an unreliable backup drive?
So I e-mailed Jay and asked what to do, and he promised to send me a new drive—a Buffalo drive, of course—right away. Me, I don’t really care who manufactures the drive, if it works.
More Than I Expected
“Right away” got delayed slightly by a transposed ZIP code (of course the FedEx people couldn’t possibly figure out that someone would be less likely to write the wrong city and state than the wrong ZIP code, and look it up), but the drive arrived on Friday. The box was big, but computer components are often shipped in huge boxes because of their fragility. This box, however, was not merely big, but heavy.
When I opened it, I saw why. The box contained a 2 TB DriveStation Quattro Pro. It weighs thirteen-odd pounds, contains four separate 500 GB drives, and looks like a small safe. The installation software shows it in the foreground of a living room, where it looks nearly as tall as the sofa, and that’s not so far off. It’s huge. Not only did I have to arrange my entire computer cart (again), I actually had to go get a heavy-duty extension cord and run it across the room under the rug. (I hooked the laser printer up to the extension cord and put the Quattro on the APC battery backup. Side note—do not connect a laser printer to one of those battery backup things. It will overload and beep at you in outrage. I’m waiting for my power bill to double.)
Now What Do I Call It?
Before I’d even finished unwrapping it, however, I needed to think of a name. Yes, I am compulsive about naming things. This is why I consult for a naming company. And let me tell you, it’s easier naming your own computers than naming new products, because you don’t have to worry about trademarks.
I wanted something with Q in it, for Quattro, and because I don’t have anything else occupying the drive letter Q. I considered “Quantum” and “Quasar,” but then found the perfect name in my Italian dictionary: “Qualora.” That’s a preposition meaning “in case of.” As in, “in case of emergency,” which is why one has a backup drive.
RAID for Redundancy
That problem settled, I went on to actually configure the drive. At the recommendation of both Jay and the Ur-Guru, I set it up for RAID 5, which provides the most protection by replicating all the data across drives. About a year ago I posted a Visual Guide to RAID created by Zachary Tirell, which may make the following explanation a little clearer.
“RAID” stands for “Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.” In English, that means using two or more drives for the same thing. My two network drives have very basic RAID options: RAID 0, which “spans” the two drives so they appear to be one large drive, and RAID 1, which “mirrors” the drives, so that everything on one drive is replicated exactly and instantaneously on the other. The advantage of spanning is that you get more storage space. The advantage of mirroring is that if one of the drives fails, the data is still safe. According to Wikipedia, “RAID 5 (striped disks with parity) combines three or more disks in a way that protects data against loss of any one disk; the storage capacity of the array is reduced by one disk.” (The Ur-Guru tells me that there used to be a RAID 2, 3, and 4, but they became obsolete once RAID 5 was invented. More details on Wikipedia if you are geeky enough to care.)
Since Qualora has 4 disks of 500 GB each, that means that using RAID 5 gives me not quite 1.5 TB of storage space (still three times as much as on Mama Bear), but I can lose one of the disks without risk to the data. I’m not sure what would happen if two of them went out at once. It’s not really very likely, but it’s been known to happen.
Did I Mention It Was Big?
It took all of one day to format Qualora and seems to be taking most of another to copy the data from Mama Bear, which I will then have to reformat and dispose of. I’ve got a couple of other dead drives and some odds and ends waiting for the next electronics recycling event. Remember: don’t throw hard drives in the trash. They have toxic chemicals in them. And don’t throw them away with data on them, because it will probably be incriminating and someone will publicize it.
The Quattro is a remarkably quiet device. I can hear the drives writing, and occasionally there’s a very faint fan sound, but it doesn’t make the jet-engine noises you might expect from a box that size.
Like the other Buffalo drives I have, the Quattro ships with Memeo, which is good-enough backup software but not a replacement for Maxtor’s Safety Drill. It would make sense to ship a drive like this with imaging software to back up your whole system. I guess it’s back to Ghost for me.
A drive like this might just possibly be overkill for someone like me. On the other hand, if I actually use the video camera more, I’m going to need the storage space. But at the rate I’m going with hard-drive acquisition syndrome, I’m going to need a new office to store the storage in!
You can get your own DriveStation Quattro for a mere $550 (at time of writing) on Amazon. (Yes, I get a cut if you click that link and then buy something. No, it doesn’t mean that you pay more.) That’s about half the MSRP, which probably means there’ll be a new version coming out soon. There always is, with technology. Most people don’t actually need the newest version of anything.
“Well, I really geeked it up this weekend in an effort to avoid future data loss from HD failure. I took an old PC that was gathering dust, and converted it to a NAS by using a neat little open source program called FreeNAS. Really works great with the handful of old, small HDs I had, and seems to transfer data much faster than a USB drive. I am waiting for delivery of 2 new 300gb SATA drives that I will install in the FreeNAS device in a RAID 1 configuration, which should give me adequate protection.”
This is indeed considerably geekier than I expected my not-so-little brother to get. It’s geekier than I’ve gotten myself, though the Ur-Guru tells me it’s a relatively simple procedure if you’ve got an old computer sitting around. You do want it to be an old computer, one you’re not using anymore, because once you convert it to a NAS device, you can’t use it for anything but storage.
NAS, for those not familiar with the term, stands for Network Attached Storage, and we’ve discussed it a few times in this newsletter. The basic idea is that instead of attaching the storage device directly to your computer, the way you do with external hard drives, you attach it to your network and transfer files to it that way. There are a number of advantages to this, such as being able to back up more than one computer to the same drive and not having to keep your computer and your backup device in the same room.
For the DIY model, you can use any old PC as long as it has at least 96MB of RAM, a bootable CD-ROM drive, at least one hard drive, and someplace to install FreeNAS: a floppy, USB, or additional hard drive. My brother had an old eMachine that fit the bill, so he downloaded FreeNAS from www.freenas.org and followed the instructions in the 41-page PDF manual.
If you don’t have an old computer gathering dust, or just don’t want to attempt anything that geeky, you can easily buy a NAS device—but it will cost you. The Buffalo TeraStation (which looks like a safe and provides 1 TB (1000 GB) of storage) goes for about $800; a 400 GB Mirra Personal Server will run you about $500. Both come with backup software.
The homemade FreeNAS model does not, so my brother concluded his message by saying “What is the best way to automatically back certain folders to the network drive? I’d like some sort of set it and forget it method. Any ideas?”
Backing up to a network drive isn’t really any different from backing up to any other drive, but I consulted the Ur-Guru before sending the following response:
“Karen’s Replicator should do the trick—another freeware program, the one I use for my own file backups. I’ve also been quasi-testing something called SyncBack to do periodic backups from my main interal drive to my secondary internal drive. In either case there’s a bit of setup time where you pick the directories to be backed up and then tell it the schedule you want it backed up on.”
And if you’re tempted to think of all this effort on my brother’s part as locking the barn door after the horses have escaped, bear in mind that he’s got two young children and will be taking many more pictures. We keep generating new data all the time, which is why it’s never too late to start backing up—and why it’s never too early, either.
In his August 15 post Rethinking backup, ZDNet‘s Paul Murphy suggests replacing standard tape drives with a combination of RAID array and DVD superdrive. “The cash savings are obvious but other things may be more important. For example, high quality DVDs outlast tapes, cost less, and require less storage space.”
It’s true, people talk a lot about the 30 year shelf life of tape, and DVDs, like CDs, are sometimes subject to “rot.” But if you’re actually using tapes instead of keeping them on shelves, they wear out very quickly, getting stretched, tangled, etc—just like audio cassette tapes.
To make the proposed solution really successful, however, a company would have to determine which data really needed backing up. A tape holds a lot more data than a DVD, even though going through multiple DVDs to recover data might be faster than going through a single tape. And no one seems to have found a way to automate what Murphy calls “Just the Facts, Ma’am” backup: “a super automated diff[erential backup] that stored just the changes in those files.”
Readers have written in with a number of suggestions, including Intelligent Disk Backup from Net Integration Technologies. Many object that without the software to sort and compact the data, the proposed solution isn’t really a solution.
The tone of the discussion starts to deteriorate after a while, but there is an important lesson in this. The easiest way to back up is sort of like the quickest way to move house: throw everything you have into boxes and put it on the truck. But that means you need a bigger truck–and maybe even a bigger house to move into. There’s a trade-off between the simplicity of backing up your whole drive and the storage space it takes to do that.
If you only have a handful of computers, you can probably get them all backed up onto one external drive, but then again, that depends on the computers. A handful of computers like mine would easily fit on one good-sized XHD. A handful of the Ur-Guru’s computers, on the other hand, need something more.
If you have storage space to spare, then you don’t have to worry about compressing or selecting the data you back up. If not, you need to determine priorities. Maybe all the data that really matters would fit on a single DVD.