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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  • blyxx86 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    You could always pick up a NAS with a built in RAID 0/1 solution. Many of the external boxes support Gigabit ethernet as well as multiple USB connectors.

    You could even upgrade the internal drives to SSDs eventually.
  • SilentSin - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I definitely would have gone with your direction here in picking up the NAS first. SSDs wouldn't have even been in my top 3 list of choices if I were looking at means of backing up my data. There are a couple of reasons for that, which you have already happened upon in your search: 1) Price- when compared to HDDs...well there isn't much of a comparison 2) Space- again, they just can't compare with your classic HDD without prices getting ridiculous.

    Another area for concern, especially when you'll be using this specifically for backups, is reliability. SSD is still a largely new and uncharted technology when it comes to overall lifespan and MTBF. Yes the parts inside them have been used in SD cards and mp3 players for years, but those applications aren't typically as high-stress as being a full-time storage device, where there are multiple read/write operations going on constantly. Yes they are 10000x more shock resistant than a harddisk, but what about electrical wear on the chips themselves? When you ask how long you should expect your new SSD to last, your response might just be "Umm..until it dies?". I realize HDDs might be just as cloudy when it comes to that question, but at least the tech is proven and there ARE fallbacks such as physical data recovery should a disaster happen. That gets a lot more tricky dealing with a physically failing SSD.

    I think your choice to go with NAS first is by far the better one. You have storage available to you from anywhere if you want it to be so, you have oodles of space to play with, and it's cost-effective. My next choice would have been simply to go with optical media and burn a DVD every so often, which isn't automated, takes time, and requires a person to remember to go ahead and do it, but it's cheap as dirt and it works. My third choice would have been to go for a fully fledged storage server with RAID redundancy, UPS, the whole nine yards. The only reason that's not my #1 is because it can get pricey if you go all out. You already seemed to have ruled out using an external HD, but that would have been #4. Then maybe SSDs.

    SSDs are targeted at the people who want it for the performance they offer, the power savings, and possibly weight in the case of laptops, cost be damned. Data backup should be all about reliability, storage density, and maximizing your budget, not performance - hell a ton of businesses still use tape backups! Don't expect them to break any speed records any time soon.

    PS- Hope the 'pack gets to taste Knight blood today! ACC needs all the bowls they can get.
  • ArKritz - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Derek: If you're looking for foolproof, just keep it simple:

    - Keep using a regular HDD on the computer.
    - Set up backup of specified directories (or whatever) at regular intervals (daily, weekly, whatever) to two external (usb) hdd's.

    Just connect, copy, disconnect, repeat with the other drive. Keep one of the drives at relatives/friends.

    A bit cumbersome, yes, but I'm sure both of you see the value of spending a bit of time on this.

    Oh yes, it's by far the cheapest alternative. ;)
  • upalachango - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    The NAS is a cheaper solution as a whole based off pure GBs in addition to functionality. Plus the NAS provides the first tenet of data protection...Redundancy.

    The SSD is also a great solution, but even a SSD can (and eventually) will fail, it's just far less dramatic of a failure.

    The way I see it is like curing a disease versus managing the symptoms. A NAS (actually scheduled backups in general) cures the disease of data-loss with redundancy. The SSD manages the symptom of unreliable copies of data. Good luck and hope the new setup gets your wife back into creating.

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