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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  • iwodo - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    May be in a Decade or so. We need at least 100Mbit upload and Online backup to be cheap enough.

    WHS or NAS do not use 80W all the time. Most of the time it only uses 20W. Not to mention NAS provide much more function compare to Online backup. And the it seems Electricity in US is awfully expensive compare to rest of the world.

    Therefore what we need is Affordable, Fast NAS. Which we are still severely lacking. We need at least 4 Disk, ZFS based Home Server.
  • idomagic - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    What hardware would you be using to idle at 20w? The lowest measured power consumption over at SPCR is 31w for AMD desktop systems and 35w for Intel desktop systems. In another review the NAS "Thecus N4100 PRO" idled at around 40w.

    As for the price of electricity, the current spot price in Sweden is pretty much exactly the same (SEK 0.989 ~= USD 0.126). During summer the price is usually lower though.

    And.. there are people with 100Mbit connections at home, but sure, I'd never backup more than a select few folders online due to the storage limitations/costs.
  • idomagic - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I'd say redundancy is the key, multiple copies in multiple locations.
    Get a dual disk NAS and go raid 1, then use some online service as well to get an offsite backup.
    You'd have to have some seriously bad luck if all four copies (including the original) would die at the same time.

    Regarding going "all out", it actually doesn't have to be very expensive, just yesterday I ordered parts for a NAS/home server, which should idle at around 35-45w (SPCR measured 31w idle with this board and CPU), running on a mATX 740G-chipset (Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2H) with an AMD X2 4850e (45w TDP), a big heatsink for passively cooling the CPU and 4gb ram. Without harddrives and a chassis the price was less than SEK 2500 (approx. USD 310), which is much less than most 4-drive NAS solutions, especially with comparable speeds.
  • WillR - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    I second this.

    Go with an inexpensive, low power platform like Geode, C7, or Atom. Most MB+CPU combos come in less than $100 or $150 for a complete barebone. Something like an MSI Wind, currently $140 at NewEgg, would work if you didn't want to build from scratch yourself. Put any capacity SO-DIMM stick of DDR2 you have or can get cheap in it. Then add 2 SATA drives in it, and run the drives in software Raid 1. It has built in gigabit and a CF adapter if you don't want to boot from the array. For $300 you can have redundant storage of 500-750GB that's accessible from any computer on your network via a number of protocols. I don't like the prebuilt NAS stuff because you're left with so little control over things. I'd much rather put a linux distro on there myself and open up a lot of options.
  • mkchiu - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Flash SSD endurance is insufficiently tested over a long period of time. I would setup a NAS with 3x 500or640 (2 platters per drive) in RAID5 using Openfiler and plugged into 1500VA UPS. Add a 1or1.5TB for periodic mirroring or backup of the RAID5 array as needed.

    If choosing flash SSD, buy the largest size possible and keep it relatively empty and unchanging.
  • Sunrise089 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Why not an automated online backup of the folders she keeps art, pics, etc? Seems a lot cheaper than multiple hard drives, and there's no need for a non-enthusiast to spend time worrying about cables and wiring.
  • azf - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    A disk that can't fail will never, ever replace backups. if you have important data, you can't rely on operating system, other hardware and user to never fail. It's as simple as that. My only data loss situation occurred years ago when HDD controller hit a bug and went berserk. SSDs wouldn't have helped me there a bit. As I have worked years as a systems engineer, I've seen plenty of cases where data has been erased accidentally. SSD's would've been worthless there, too.

    You need your backups, your wife needs backups and I need my backups. SSD's and mirrored disks and whatnot will help in only one of all the failure scenarios, give you false sense of security and leave you exposed. And if you take your backups seriously, you should try restoring them every once in a while.
  • edborden - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I bought an Intel NAS for the very purpose of trying to do the due diligence so my wife wouldn't have to go through this. An Intel software error was the first step on a horrible trip through the data recovery industry that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I blogged the whole experience in two posts::">">
  • StraightPipe - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    NAS is the simplest. You can set the lappy to auto sync everytime she brings it home, then you are done.

    Offsite backup via one of these online storage sites is the next easiest. It will go automatically too, but can take a very long time depending on the amount of data changed daily.

    CD/DVD backups is possible, but they are going to be a pain to manually run/burn.

    SSD isnt a backup at all. It may provide longer life, but there's no track record for reliability yet.

    If you want the "protection" of flash, try making her backup to a thumb drive. You can get 16GB these days for $40 online. That may not be enough space.
  • fnord123 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Depending on the size and the value of your data, you may want to consider an online backup system such as JungleDisk ($0.15/GB/month).

    I used to run a Windows Home Server box to do all my backup. Using a Kill-A-Watt, I measured its power consumption and it was around 80w. If you multiply this out, you get: 80w * 24h/day * 30day/mo = 57.6kw. At $0.12/kw local electric rates, I was paying around $7/mo just for the electricity to run my backups. For that amount of money, I was able to backup 46GB of data online via Jungledisk.

    A NAS can crash just as well as a drive in a PC, and it costs $/month in electric bills. If your content is not huge (few 10s of GB or less) it may be cheaper to use an online service. Online backup is also way more reliable (if your house burns down, you lose both your laptop and your NAS - but Amazon S3 doesn't burn down).

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