In to every geek's life a little rain must fall. This month, that rain fell on my wife, Laura. 

Laura is a sort of right brained artist. She has a bachelors degree in applied mathematics from NCSU, and she's also a musician and an artist. Before our daughter Lorien was born, Laura drew a web comic. Most recently, she was getting into flash. She's totally awesome and I'm the luckiest guy in the world. But that's not what this blog post is about, so I'll get back to the story.

Since laura does a lot of content creation, she tends to spend a lot of time on her computer, which happens to be a MacBook a bunch of her friends and family pitched in to get her for her birthday last year. Since then she has worked on a few new comic ideas as well as a bunch of different flash projects. And getting things done while raising a baby and being pregnant with another child (due in March), it's understandable that backing up data (especially on such a relatively new computer) might not be a top priority. I'm sure you can see where this is going ...

So one day, Laura's computer just locks up while she's playing Civ 4 on the windows partition she installed. Of course, this isn't abnormal -- it is windows after all. But the computer won't boot up again this time. It spends some time trying to boot, but we get the blinking question mark on a folder indicating there is nothing to boot from, and the hard drive is making a very disheartening squeaking and clicking noise. 

That's right, mechanical drive failure. The worst possible thing that could happen to a disk, especially when none of the data has been backed up. For a year and 3 months. Oh yeah, did I mention it's just out of warrantee and we didn't pick up the Apple Care plan? That might not have been the best way to go. I'm more used to building PCs from components and warrantees on individual parts aren't that important to me, but I've decided that when buying whole systems (and especially notebooks) I'll be picking up what ever extended warrantee I can get my hands on.

So... yeah. That really sucked. Laura lost a bunch of data, and there isn't really anything I can do about it (we can't afford physical data recovery). We are going to hang on to the disk in case some day we are in a position to recover whatever data wasn't destroyed from physical damage. But for now, Laura has been quite upset about having lost the data and is a little hesitant about doing anything on the computer any more. Which is a shame, as she's very good and I hate to see her not able to enjoy the things she loves. But I know how upset I get if I accidentally lose something as trivial as a few hours of whatever final fantasy game I happen to be playing when my dog trips over the power cord.

Anyway, I'm trying to rebuild her trust in computers to the point where she doesn't feel nervous doing anything involved and creative. I'm going with a two fold solution. First, I'm trying to set up a cheap NAS device for both explicit back ups of her art and for her to use with Time Machine. So I picked up a 1Tb LaCie Ethernet Disk mini. 

I started with a WD My Book World Edition, but I had a bunch of trouble setting up Time Machine to work with SMB. I actually got it working, but it just wasn't as transparent or easy to use as I wanted, and I seemed to have some speed issues even over gigabit ethernet. The LaCie solution will work much more easily out of the box, and it also supports USB 2.0 which will offer easier recovery in the event of future catastrophic failure. 

I debated going with Apple's Time Capsule, but we've already got gigabit switches and an 802.11n access point. We also wanted to be able to access the drive from our windows based HTPC so we can store some video on it as well. The LaCie shares the drive using multiple protocols, so we can use it with both PCs and Macs. Which was nice.

Anyway, that's the first prong of the attack. After explaining it all to Laura, she asked: but the drive can still fail -- is there anything we can do to keep it from dying? And my reply was that she would want to use SSDs. And thus, some time next quarter we are going to pick up an SSD. The Intel drive is great, but even it is a little pricy and doesn't offer a whole lot of space. We are hoping that by holding out a bit longer we'll see better quality MLC drives from other manufacturers  that can offer some competition to Intel and help bring prices down a bit lower. 

I'll throw this out there: how many of you guys would have gone with an SSD first and a NAS back up disk later? Let me know in the comments.
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  • michaeljonas - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    I would go with NAS first, and SSD later; although a mechanical hard drive failure has NEVER occurred with my computers...

    Now, I have to say that I CANNOT FREAKIN' BELIEVE that you, one of my computer geeks-wizard-heroes, does not have a backup system setup!!! It is unforgivable, if I were your wife I would order you to sleep on the sofa for a whole month!!! LOL!
  • comedian - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Do yourself a favor and have a look at FreeNAS. Like your LaCie it can speak many protocols (including AFP), and can be run on any PC that you can hook any hard drives to.

    It allows full software RAID 0,1, or 5 (you'll want 1 or 5 for redundancy) to project your data on the NAS from failure.

    Best of all, the software is free, and the hardware can pretty much be whatever you have lying around.

    On the redundant and easy to use front, there's Drobo or ReadyNAS, but they are both fairly expensive to get started with. The advantage to both those devices is their ability to dynamically expand the RAID simply by adding new drives.
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Looks like most people feel going with a NAS backup solution initially was the best way to go for many of the same reasons I made that decision.

    I find it interesting that people would rather trust the failure rates of mechanical drives over the as of yet unproven SSD drives. Granted, MTBF is tough to establish in a new market, but it is only a given that SSDs will fail after a certain number of writes ... I know with Intel's drives at least, the device will not allow any more data to be written to the device at the point where integrity could be compromised. This means, while your drive may fail, you will not lose your data, which can be copied to another drive even after failure.

    Beyond that, under constant load (or just being on) mechanical drives degrade themselves toward failure. even if nothing is being accessed, while the platters are spinning, the life of the drive is ticking away.

    It isn't just an issue of resilience to physical trauma or performance -- even though it hasn't been tested, there is no reason to suspect that SSD devices will have as incredibly low a (real) MTBF as mechanical drives.

    Yes, things can go wrong. There could be controller issues or OS problems or even internal logic to the device that may cause issue. We see that the Intel controller solution, in our initial testing, is much more mature and sensible than the JMicron controllers in most other drives. But even the intel drive could have problems, especially with earlier firmware.

    But from my experience over the years, I'd still rather go with the SSD and take my chances, especially after we see second and third generation SSDs start to hit the market.

    Though, more to the point of this, it may be worth it to forego the SSD. I think it's a better option than the mechanical drive, but I get that it can't beat more backups in more places.

    While I'm not interested in online backup or storage, I do see the wisdom in going with more redundancy. Based on all this feedback, instead of an SSD we may go with a smaller/cheaper external USB 2.0 or Firewire 800 disk for backing up just final versions of essential data. We could keep this in our lock box. Wouldn't save it from everything, but unless a hardcore accelerant is used we'd still have our data after a fire.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Derek, my suggestion would be to use USB 2.0, or firewire 1394a. The problem with firewire 1394b is that it is too costly, and finding a reliable product can be an issue. I personally own several USB 2.0 enclosures, and while they perform ok (~24MB/s), a firewire 1394a external drive will out perform these greatly.

    If you're unaware of Addonics check out their site:"> . If you're like me, and picky with whom you deal with over the internet (concerning purchases), Provantage whom I have personally dealt with many times is very reputable. Provantage normally carries several Addonics devices in stock."> Anyhow, Addonics probably has something that could work great for your situation.
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    I don't doubt the longevity of decent SSDs, but IMO they are simply too expensive right now to justify purchase of that over another data backup option. The only hard drive I have personally seen fail was a Maxtor in a Shuttle case with a P4 Prescott (was able to recover the data booting from a Knoppix LiveCD and transferring to USB), and apparently something else failed at the same time as I could not successfully install Windows to a new hard drive after we purchased it. For a laptop with only one hard drive slot, I'd call a 64GB drive too small, and all current prices on non-JMicron drives over that capacity are very high.

    I've had almost as many crashes on OSX as Windows over the past few years, despite far more use of Windows.
  • crimson117 - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    SSD is a good option, but by itself it's not enough for data backup. You still need a redundant backup solution.

    If you can do both, then use SSDs and have a redundant backup as well. But if you can only afford one solution right now, start with the redundant backup, and save up for the SSD.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    I had a western digital external hard drive fail on me not too long ago, I would turn it on and it would make the click, click noise of death. I expected I was screwed, but I tried this program called Power Data recovery."> Even though windows, and various other hard drive tools thought that there wasn't even any formatted space on the drive with this program I was able to recover ALL my data. I even had multiple copies of things from erase and rewrites. It was a 160GB drive and I think I had around 240GB taken off of it. Your drive only needs to physically work once more, it took me a few try's of plugging it in and turning it on but it finally worked for me. I can't even explain the feeling of relief it was so great. And it's WAY less expensive than paying a company to do it for you.
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    tried recovering data -- bios / efi does not detect the drive. there is no way to get to the disk for any software to try anything. we would need physical recovery. and i don't have a spare clean room laying around or I might try it myself :-)
  • RoddyMike - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I've had success using to backup online. They make a mac version and you can backup 2GB for free. Backups can be set to occur multiple times per day. Worth a look to see if it fits your situation.
  • bhigh - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    I second the recommendation for Mozy. I use it for backing up my wife's desktop and my own. For years I was using rsync to a NAS, but the piece of mind of having off site storage is worth far more than $5/month.

    Some users have reported trouble restoring files. I have not, but I haven't needed to do a large restore yet, either.

    Be sure to search for coupons, you can save 10% or 20% off of a 2-year subscription.

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