Digital Storage Problems

Ok, Interwebs.  I need your help again – this time with a computer-related issue.  I’ve got an older computer, but my computing needs are simple and it doesn’t give me any problems, so we’re still pretty good friends.  I don’t have any real plans to replace it any time soon.  But faithful readers will know that its hard drive is already full.  My desire to accumulate digital info is feeling a little bit stifled right now.  I’ve also got an old external 80 GB hard drive where I’ve been keeping a second copy of my important stuff, but now it’s full, too.  I just need some space, y’all (it sounds like we’re breaking up).

But more importantly, I need to develop a long-term plan for data storage and backup.  I like to have two copies of all my important stuff in two different locations – just in case, you know?  I want to be prepared in the event that masked robbers burst into my living room one day and demand that I turn over my Mormon Stories digital archives or my 2nd grade science fair report (where I conclusively prove that fire does, in fact, need air to burn).  Currently, I store the external drive in a different part of the house, and just pull it out once a month or so to do a system back-up – then I store it away again.  Should tragedy strike either one, I’ve still got my backup somewhere else (you know, unless tragedy strikes the entire house – then I’m screwed).

Obviously, the easiest solution to my short-term problem of my hard drive being full is to just buy a larger external hard drive.  But since my existing hard drive is full, the external drive would pretty much have to stay connected to my computer all the time, acting as my primary storage space – which doesn’t leave me with two copies in two locations.

So, wise internet, what should I do to make sure I have two copies in two locations?    Should I use an online backup system?  Should I buy two new external hard drives (one for general use, one for backup)?  Should I buy a new external hard drive and a new internal hard drive?  There is a really good chance that we will purchase a new laptop somewhere in the near future (one that doesn’t sound like an airplane taking off when you turn it on…), but I don’t see that solving our storage problems, do you?  What system do you use to make sure you’re data is backed up?????

So… wanna tell me about your data storage procedures?????

12 comments to Digital Storage Problems

  • For stuff that falls under "nice to have" vs. "need to have" (like, digitally speaking, what would you take with you from the house in a fire?), I am a big fan of the Gmail method. E-mail yourself backup copies of photos, etc., and categorize them in labeled folders. Also, is some of what you have things like music and movies? I realize this is a little 2001 of me, but do you need it all on your computer? Or could you burn some DVDs and relieve your computer of the burden? I am the opposite of high-tech but I am very good at getting rid of crap I don't need (watch "Hoarders" or picture the fire scenario) and decide if you could let some stuff go. I'm preparing for a move right now and the thought of moving ALL MY CRAP is making me throw a lot out. Could that be applied to this scenario?

  • Brianne and I just got a great deal on an external hard drive (1.5 TB for about $110). I think you need to do that for sure. After that, if you would like, you can mail me the hard drive with everything backed up on it and I will sleep with it in my bed and make sure it is safe. How does that sound?

  • Brianne

    wow tiger, pretty early to be giving up bed space dontcha think? geez.

    seriously though, you should get an external HD that you just carry around with your computer and then either another that you back everything up to, or back it all up online at mozy or others similar. this has some good info:

  • Carbonite.

    The service costs about $50 / year, and it constantly backs up everything on your computer. You set it up once, then you're done. Unlimited storage, hassle free, no user input, perfect redundancy… there's not much more you could ask for.

  • Stephanie, DVD's? Heavens. That IS a little 2001 of you.. I don't actually feel like I have a lot I could get rid of. I've been pretty skimpy on the sort of things I keep around.

    Tiger/Brianne – no offense – but I don't want my sensitive data anywhere near your newlywed bed.

    InspectorReuben – a lot of people seem to like Carbonite, although it's in third place in the poll at the link Brianne provided. I should probably check it out.

  • I have a home PC with 3TB fault-tolerant raid storage (copy 1 of my data), I also have a 4TB network attached storage device (although an external drive would accomplish essentially the same thing)(that's copy #2). I use a free program called SyncBack to run automated backups of my home pc, my school/work laptop, and wife's netbook data to the NAS.

    I disfavor DVDs or CDs as long term storage. They're too small (storage space) and data cannot be updated, if you modify backed up files, you must re-burn a new disk.

    Finally, I use Mozy (copy #3) to backup essential, financial, homework, personal, church files, and photos (not digital music or movies/tv shows). I only use the free service where you get 2 GB free, but I won a contest a year or two back and got about 20 GB more. Unlimited storage is something like $5/mo.

    I was an IT admin for several years before law school, though, so I'm paranoid. You probably don't need all of that.

    Since performance is not a concern for you, I would suggest two external HDDs and SyncBack. Generally, it's a good idea to keep your data on a different drive from your System drive (both because it makes your data less volatile and improves system performance), I do this with separate internal HDDs because performance is a concern for me. I would attach one external drive permanently to your PC and move all of your data to it, leaving only your OS and installed programs on the system disk. I would then use the second drive as you currently are to create a periodic backup of that drive. A good 1TB external HDD can be had for ~$80 each. If you've only got an 80GB drive full now, you'll never fill up 1TB unless you change your usage habits later. Also, keep in mind that you should keep your disks less than 90% full (seems stupid, I know, but you'll start to see significant performance issues when a disk nears capacity, ESPECIALLY on a system drive).

    This would also account for a new laptop in the future as you could back the lappy up to the backup external drive, too.

    I would be happy to help you set up SyncBack sometime after the end of the semester. In the mean time you could do things manually like you've been doing.

  • I have a 2 TB linux server plus a 12 TB NAS I will not so any storage over the internet because it is to easy for HACKERS to get it along the way "stealing packets" I would get a set up so you can run raid 0,1. All you need is a 1TB external seagate super user friendly

  • @James
    Excellent advice. Thanks for the detailed answer! Two new external drives is probably the most affordable and simple option. I'm also thinking about investing in a NAS so that the desktop and the laptop are equally useful (right now, the laptop is playing second fiddle – partially because it sounds like it's going to blow up, partially because none of our useful files are on it…) Anyway. Thanks for the advice.

  • @Live
    12 TB? How much of that do you have full right now? Heavens! That's a lot of storage space. If I buy a 1TB external drive, that's still just one copy in one location, right?

  • A 1TB is perfect for you or even a 2TB for 70$ more then enough Seagate Freeagent is perfect microcenter has them. The reason I have so much TB is because i do IT consulting for a couple different companies one's is a lawyers and the other a doctor both real small. I will generally just do raid 0,1 but sometimes I have to do raid 4,5 Sometimes more then one copy depending on the if I do incremental differential back ups. I do have a Seagate 1TB freeagent for sale.

  • James = Jimmy, it's just more professional as James (lest you should think I was random, non-Minnesota stranger whose offer to assist was disingenuous).

    I went with a D-Link DNS-321 NAS I found for ~$90 after rebate (no drives). I already had a couple of 2TB drives to stick in it. The device supports raid 0,1,JBOD – although the value of its raid configurations is debatable. Although, its performance isn't great, it's sufficient to play HD media (to buy/build a decent speed NAS, you either have to have spare parts to build a server or some coin to shell out for a higher end unit). From a green standpoint, it's quite power efficient (6 watts at idle). I bought it so I could have my pc off more often but still have network access to my files from any machine.

    I don't know how I would feel about it as a primary storage drive, though. Performance isn't as good as a directly attached external HDD, plus, if it was your only solution, then you're back to your data being in one place (even if it is a mirrored raid 0 place, it's still susceptible to theft, fire, etc).

    As for online backup, Mozy (and I'm sure others) uses AES 256 bit (or blowfish 400 something bit) encryption across a secured connection. Could it be cracked, yes, by someone with DOD resources and willingness to spend years dedicated to decrypting my old homework assignments. Practically speaking, it's secure. Literally speaking, nothing with a data connection to the internet is "secure" as in can't be broken into with any amount of resources (heck recent events demonstrate that even Google and Intel can't keep things protected from a sufficiently sophisticated attack.

    Good luck, let us know what you decide on and if you need any assistance setting things up. Wiring your house for ethernet while you're remodeling would be a nice touch… I have crimpers!! 🙂

    All said, I think raid or more than 1TB is overkill for you. 2 1TB externals would be flexible and inexpensive. NAS would be flexible (although, again, it's data in only one place). If you go NAS, make sure to consider the effect on your home network… wired? wireless? (slow for NAS access)… etc.

  • Ren

    My external HD died some months ago and couldn't be revived by myself or any of my more geeky resources. I've been backing up my primary laptop to my little Eee laptop (which has a bigger HD) for now. But that's not a good long term solution. Docs with sensitive data I also have backed up onto cds and my parents are nice enough to keep a copy in their safe for me. I'm going to go to an online service for my numerous photos. Amazon S3 and Mozy have both been recommended to me.