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Backup Hardware; What Should I Use?

Backup Hardware; What Should I Use?

Backup.

Nobody ever really thinks that they need to do it, until they do. “Oh, my computer is fine and I’ve never had a problem”, (people usually say this minutes before their hard drive seizes up forever.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the lament, “I wish I had backed that up.” Well guess what? You being the supremely intelligent person that you are, have come here for a reason. You don’t want to be one of those statistics and I won’t let you become one.

We’re going to compare the different types of hardware that can be used for backing up and the pros and cons of using each. Are you ready to be prepared?

Backup Hardware

There are a zillion different kinds of hardware that can be used for backing up data out there (don’t run away yet.) Many of these disparate solutions are used in the business world and cost many thousands of dollars. That’s great, but it’s not what we’re going to talk about here. We’re more interested in the simpler and cheaper solutions that a person can use in a small or home office environment. For this there are basically two devices, the Hard Drive and the Thumbdrive.

- The Hard Drive
There are are a few different ways to implement a Hard Drive into your backup strategy. For instance if you have an extra internal physical hard drive you can copy files to it manually or automatically.

Internal
Pro: The advantage of this is speed. Any drive that is installed in your system box itself is going to be much faster than externally connected drives. Faster, means quicker and easier as the drive is probably just a letter (i.e. E:) in your folder structure. This can make it easier to configure software for it as well.
Con: The thing that makes it fast, being internally installed, also makes it vulnerable. If your computer would go up in a ball of flame, it would probably take your backup drive with it. So it’s fast, but as a slab of charcoal probably doesn’t help you much. Chances are it wouldn’t happen but we’re being proactive here remember?

External
Pro: The advantage to the external hard drive for backups is that it’s external to the computer for safety’s sake. Heck you could even make it external to the physical presence of the computer and store it offsite until you need to use it. Such as in a safe-deposit box, your Mother’s house, or in a coffee can buried in your yard. If you have to backup many computers in other locations the mobility of this solution works to your advantage as well. I often have a backup drive with me for just such an occasion. You can also take advantage of a multi-drive system, such as the Drobo, for redundancy and to reduce the chance of lost data. We’ll speak more about this later in the article.
Con: The drawback to using the External Hard Drive in a backup scenario is its speed, capacity and fragility. These external drives are slower than the ones directly connected to your motherboard inside the computer. Although with the advent of eSATA and USB 3.0 drives the speed is very close to internal speeds.
Capacity in a small size is a challenge as well. Generally the smaller external drives have less capacity than a large internal drive, but self-powered USB 1TB drives are not very expensive and quite common.
Lets face it, when you carry a drive around with you they can get banged around more than they were designed for. Be careful if you use one. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.

-The Thumbdrive
A thumbdrive (also known as a flashdrive, usb stick, or thumbstick) is a small device usually about the length and width of a stick of gum that contains flash (rewritable) memory within for storing data and a usb (usually) connector on the outside to connect to computers or other electronic devices.

Pro: The thumbdrive is small in size which makes it extremely portable, just stick one in your pocket, bag, or even on a keychain (I only recommend the keychain if you encrypt your data as well). Most thumbdrives will work just by plugging them into any computer made within the last 5 – 7 years or so. The average sized one can hold a bunch of datafiles, music, pictures or even a movie or two. If you have no other backup solution or portability is very important to you, the Thumbdrive will work well.
Con: The thumbdrive’s best attribute is also its limitation. Its size limits its speed and storage capacity. Don’t get me wrong, these things are light years ahead of where they were in capacity and price just a few years ago. When compared to an actual hard drive however they don’t quite offer the speed, capacity or cost per megabyte that a hard drive can.
They are also only designed for a limited amount of reads and writes. It’s a very large number, but a limitation none-the-less.
My suggestion would be to use them as temporary backup storage and be sure to either back them up or move the data to a more stable platform. Be judicious about what and how much you put on them. Take care of your data and it’ll take care of you.

What Actually is RAID?

Other than the bug spray, the acronym RAID stands for “Redundant Array of Independent Disks”. It’s a technology where data gets replicated on many hard disks simultaneously. As a result if one of the disks stops working, it can be replaced and the RAID system will rebuild the data from the pieces on the other disks.
The system does have a few drawbacks though. One of them is price. There are a few software based systems, but most of the really good ones are hardware based and pricey. Also in most of these systems all of the disks have to be exactly the same size which limits future expandability…except for one really good option for the home and small business user, the Drobo.
Drobo is a hard drive enclosure that contains bays for 4, 5, 8, or 12 hard drives, depending on which one you purchase. The more drives, the more redundancy. That means that for a larger number of drives, several drives could fail without compromising your data.Four drive Drobo I think the 4 and 5 drive models are adequate for most users. Many professional photographers, for example, use the system for this very purpose. When your livelihood depends on your data, you want to protect it.
If a drive fails the light turns red, pop the drive out and pop a new one in. When the light turns green everything is rebuilt and things can move along.
Another plus is the ability to use different size drives, so you can use spare hard drives that might be lying around unused. So older drives don’t end up in landfills or as is often the case, cluttering up your basement.
I really like the Drobo system and wholeheartedly recommend it if you can afford it, or if you can’t afford to not have it.

…but what do you think “I” should do?

It really isn’t all that complicated.

  • Like portability and have a small amount of data – USB Thumbdrive
  • Like portability but have a lot of data – USB Hard Drive
  • Need speed over portability – Internal Hard Drive
  • Need the ultimate in redundancy – Drobo
  • Need redundancy but can’t afford a Drobo – Get several USB Hard Drives and switch between them

If you want to protect yourself with backup the tools are there, and they cover many different needs and price points. The most important thing is that you’re Doing Something. Don’t become a statistic. Don’t lose your precious memories. Backup.

The next article in this series will go over the different types of software that can be used for backup, and how best to utilize them. It’s the complement to the new hardware that you’re going to run out and get now that I’ve convinced you…What! You’re still here? Go!

– Christopher

P.S. If you would like to read the previous article in the series click here.

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links for products that will earn me a commission if you purchase through them.  If you do I am extremely grateful and please contact me if you have any questions about any of the products or services.

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