Tag Archives: Hard disk drive

Technology is great until it fails! How to back up your pictures and other files

In this age where almost everyone has some form of capturing the moment digitally; whether you have a full-on Digital SLR camera, point and click, iPod, iPhone, Android, etc. at some point you’re going to amass lots of pictures and videos.

So what would happen if the device they were on right now failed? Would you lose all your treasured files? What options do you have to backup?

Backing up your PC / Mac

There are so many options here to consider; here’s a brief run-down of the main ones:

Data Transfer Speed Cost to Implement Typically Stored Risk of Failure Comments
Optical Media (CD/DVD) Slow $ On Site Low Long term storage option; Size limitations per Disc (e.g. Single Layer DVD is 4.7GB)
Attached Portable Disk Fast $ On Site Moderate Good for quick archival; risk of disk failure
(in unit) RAID array (non-NAS) Fast $$ On Site Low Provides protection, but risk to data if the entire unit is affected
Single NAS drive Medium * $ On Site Moderate Central location for everyone on a home network to backup to; risk of single disk failure
RAID NAS Drive Medium * $$ On Site Low Central location for everyone on a home network to backup to; risk should the location catch fire, etc.
Free Cloud Offerings Medium * Cloud Low Space is typically limited; very little options in syncing files
Paid Cloud Offerings Medium * $$$ Cloud Low Best compromise  of accessibility, speed, risk and flexibility; Most expensive option long term

Some terminology while we’re here:

NAS = Network Attached Storage; think of it like a portable hard drive that you can put in your home network and anyone on your network can see it

RAID = Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks; most home PCs have one hard drive. if that fails then it’s game over. Some PCs are configured to allow other hard drives to be added which mirror the main hard drive. This doesn’t increase your hard drive space – instead, if the main hard drive fails, you have at least one disk with a backup of your data which you can run from. To read more about RAID, check this wiki article out.

Backing up isn’t just once and done

Backups typically are one of three types. When you are looking to backup your files, you might want to think about using backup software to help automate it, and so you’ll need to consider the following

  • Full – A complete backup of all files is taken each time
  • Incremental – A full backup is taken and then only changes are backed up after that point, resulting in multiple incremental sets of backups
  • Differential – A full backup is taken and then only changes are taken; each time a backup occurs it overwrites the last differential backup and takes all files updated since the full backup. This results in only two backup files being present at any one time.

Many backup services offer a variety of these. To me, differential seems the one I’d pick because in the event of a disk failure, I’m only having to work with two files, otherwise I’m maintaining many files with incremental (unless I’m on the ball with when I do a full backup).

The Need for Speed

When you’re backing up gigabytes of files you want it to happen fairly quickly – if you’re using something like a DVD or slow internet connection it’s going to take a while. That could be a PITA.

What’s the best option for me?

Generally using Cloud for backups is the best compromise – if all you’re doing is backing up and don’t want others to have access to the files. Otherwise, a NAS RAID drive might suit better. Both have pros and cons – think about speed, access, cost and finally – if you’re house were to catch on fire, would you save your RAID NAS drive?

Here’s a comparison of Cloud services to consider. Carbonite, Mozy and Backblaze are typically the most popular premium services, so also check out this.

What about my cell / mobile phone backups?

iPhones have iCloud and iTunes to help with that. You can sync your files to either / both and take care of it.

Android has a slightly different set of options; You can sync your contacts and pictures with Google directly (including Google Picassa) or you can buy some of the apps out there for it. TechHive has a great article on this very topic.

Conclusion

We all need to consider our backup strategy – and have one in place. It also goes hand in hand with being able to organise your files so that if you need to refer back to them, you can. How many times have you seen the folder “DCIM” with image names such as “IMAGE0012.JPG”? Technology still has to solve the ability to catalogue digital images effectively!

So, what do you use for backups?

Got NAS? Creating a Digital Media Solution

(Author’s note: This post is for those not as familiar with the full extent of digital media tools, apps and hardware; there are a multitude of solutions out there and this is to bring the subject to the wider audience).

In this age of digital media, everyone is taking photos (JPGs), listening to music (MP3, OGG, FLAC), taking videos (MP4, DivX, MPG, MKV) – and there are plenty of other formats for each of those to choose as an alternative. Equally, there are many ways to consume those formats – Desktop, Laptop, tablets, PDA, phone.. the list goes on.

Over time you may come to realise that you have lots of files everywhere (SD cards, hard drives, USB memory sticks, Facebook, etc). – You probably have also wondered how can you organise them a little better so you don’t have to go to one place for pictures, another for music, etc. etc.

If you’ve not heard of NAS (or Network Attached Storage) already then this might be the answer for you!

What is NAS?

A NAS drive is one or more 3.5″ hard drives contained in an enclosure along with some additional bits and pieces to make it more than just a hard drive. For the technically minded, those bits and pieces are a network port, sometimes a USB port (to enable attachment of other USB devices including printers) and typically a micro kernal flavour of Linux allowing some other features such as the ability to automatically download .torrent files, FTP access, user management, etc. If you’re wanting yet more info, check out the Wiki article on it.

The NAS drive connects to your network router and provides the ability to store and retrieve data to (almost) any other device that can connect to the same network. To give you a flavour of just what this means, take a look at the possibilities below!

From this you can see that the potential to centralise all your picture, music and movies is pretty compelling. So what’s the catch?

What’s the catch?

NAS drives are as fast as the network they are connected to and the activity they are performing. For example, if you had 3 people trying to stream 1080p (HD) video on a 802.11B wireless network they are going to have to deal with slow network speeds and (potentially) one hard drive trying to squeeze 3 HD videos down a small network pipe. You can imagine that won’t work well! Also some devices have to do some extra decoding on the fly for certain content (usually video) – again that can add an overhead.

But it’s not all bad, is it?

Not at all – personally I have a single drive NAS drive (Iomega 1TB) which serves as a central store for all my digital content. It means I can share media across any device including XBox 360, PS3, laptops and Android phone. Slight frustration is with Apple mobile products; my iPad won’t connect without downloading (buying) more software or by routing the content via a PC / Mac which would have to be on to serve the content.

What else should I know?

NAS drives can be bought with the capability to house multiple hard drives. The main reason for this is to provide failover should one hard drive fail. You may have heard the term “RAID” – this basically means that whatever is on a disk is mirrored to another disk so that if one fails, the other disk has the same data to provide backup/failover. Read more about RAID here. This means that you could have 2 x 1TB drives with only 1TB of storage space but redundancy for that capacity.

NAS drives should also come as DNLA / UPnP and iTunes compatible so you have lots of options open to you  – many do, but this is just something to look out for.

Also look out for those NAS drives that can act as a Print Server – that means you can connect your printer to the NAS drive and any device on the network potentially can use that printer.

So what NAS drive should I buy?

There are many options; if you have the budget I would recommend getting a NAS drive with RAID, plus drives as big as you’re comfortable buying. Check Amazon, NewEgg and CNET for recommendations – I’ve heard lots of good press about Buffalo; I’ve had a good enough experience with my iomega NAS too.

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