Breaking it down

Michel Hedley
17 September, 2013
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Editor’s note. The following article from Michel Hedley was sent through to us via email, in response to Macworld Australia’s Storage Breakdown feature in the August issue. 


The article ‘Storage Breakdown’ was timely given the increasing amounts of data that we are now holding in the home and in the office. If you hold serious amounts of data, then you need a risk management strategy to be serious about your storage requirements and deployments.

A risk management strategy helps identity the quality and type of storage needed, the options for having good cloning, backup and archiving regimes and testing schedules, the need to monitor the redundancy of media and devices and, importantly, getting operational as quickly as possible should a failure happen somewhere in the system. Some of the risks, for example, include compromised passwords, theft, hacking, physical damage and obsolescence.

I think it is a good risk management tactic not to store data files on the computer’s drive, but instead on external drives. That way if the computer crashes or is being repaired, then it is easy to get operational again by plugging the external drives into another computer.

I support the article’s suggestion to put data files on external RAID formatted drive enclosures, preferably set to RAID 5. This means buying a three- or four-bay enclosure and drives, but RAID 5 makes for faster and assured recovery in the unhappy circumstance of hard drive failure.

I support the article’s suggestion of a data audit to identify data collections and the size and shape of those collections, which in turn helps to calculate the size of the storage needed. Drive headroom needs to be added to the calculations. Having this audit information means that the drive can be formatted into volumes that correspond to particular data collections as identified by the audit.

Two external RAID 5 formatted enclosures with three or four drives in each is a good approach – one is for the working data files and the other is to back up those data files and to clone the computer drive. Cloning and backup software such as SuperDuper and Carbon Copy means this task can be done every day and automatically. I think it is best to buy two matching enclosures with matching drives as this allows swapping of the drives between the enclosures if necessary.

Needless to say, it is a good risk management tactic to buy high quality enclosures and drives, particularly as the price of these has decreased considerably, but the stress and costs of recovery of data remain the same.

A dedicated external drive for TimeMachine appears to be the best option. This drive should be one that can power up quickly, can tolerate this activity each hour and has a good data transfer rate. Some suggest that a RAID configured drive is not so good for the task of TimeMachine. A clone of the computer operating system is needed as a computer can be restarted immediately from TimeMachine.

Off-site storage addresses the risk of theft of devices, and damage such as fire. Again, removable drives work well, as long as regular backing up is done and removable drives are actually taken off-site. Online storage is less dependent on remembering to do this and is recommended for family and company records, and family digital files. There is no need for an online clone of the computer’s drive, as restore operating system functions are now available and can be utilised if application disks are stored off-site.

As the article points out, our data is large and growing. Online storage has a number of drawbacks including free size limits, ongoing storage costs, no guarantee as to the continuity of the service, inhibitions on types of files that can be stored etc. Consequently, the shortcomings of online storage mean that there is still the obvious need to store data on hard drives.

Archiving of data onto media that is safer than online storage and hard drives is rarely mentioned. But what is usually mentioned, and this is mentioned in the article, is the decline of DVDs and Blu-rays – two perfect media for archiving data. By archiving, I mean those data files that are no longer in active use and not wanted on hard drives any more. Archiving is necessary for a number of reasons, including financial audit, historical research, family record storage, mandatory holding of legal records and more.

Archiving onto anything to ensure a long shelf life of information is seemingly disregarded and not taken seriously by the IT industry, particularly by Apple. The cloud is pushed by the IT industry and IT journalists as the new storage technology and medium. But, as your article indicates, we are storing increasing amounts of data and that makes online storage and internet connections expensive, requires reliable internet connections and internet service providers/carriers, and calls for a lot of blind trust in the efficacy and longevity of cloud storage companies. Need to store your family photographs for the long-term? Then print them on paper or make a photo book.

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