Thing-a-Day 30: Backup the Backup

Storing Backups

[POSTING THIS A DAY LATE on 12/01]

The last day of the November 2014 THING-A-DAY challenge got away from me with the extended family visit, so I spent today doing the work I had wanted to do: start the big backup of my network-attached hard drive. The process of backing-up my data is worth talking about, because a lot of what I do is completely digital in nature. Creating a backup process that’s easy and covers all the bases is important; I’ve added a couple of new backup devices to help me do that.

My Data Storage System

Just about all of my work is digital, and falls into one of the following categories:

  • Audio Podcast
  • Digital Video
  • Digital Photography
  • Graphic Design for Print
  • Interactive Design for Web
  • Writing
  • Code and Media Assets
  • Project Management

Everything EXCEPT for the digital video/audio/photography is small enough to store in the cloud. DropBox is my main graphic design and project management storage solution, as it mirrors all my files to all my work computers. For programming, I use Git as my source control system and push my changes to Github and Bitbucket.

For digital video, photography, and audio, the files are generally too big to upload and download with speed, plus storing these files in the cloud would become expensive. For that, I need big cheap hard drives.

Currently, I’m using a Western Digital MyCloud 3TB (around US$120 when I bought it), which is a hard drive that connects directly to my 1000BaseT Gigabit Ethernet network. It’s the unit on the right of the title picture. It’s cheap, works with both Mac and PC, and is pretty robust, though it tends to fall asleep and not wake-up, so I have set it to always be on. I keep my backups, digital photos, and other big pictures on it; basically everything that I’m not already using with DropBox and Bitbucket.

Since it is a hard drive, it is going to fail sometime. It may fail tomorrow. It may fail in 3 years. But it will fail. The power supply will degrade, or the hard drive will have aged to the point where the power supply can no longer spin it up due to increased resistance. Therefore, I need a backup for the backup, so when it does die I will be able to restore my data to a new unit.

The Process Improvements

Sunday’s THING-A-DAY was setting up the unit on the left for just that purpose, a USB3 Hard Drive Dock that accepts bare hard drives. It can plug right into the back of the MyCloud drive, so backing-up that drive is handled automatically without the need for a separate computer. The USB dock is backing up data by itself to the MyCloud as I type up this post; I’m monitoring its progress using the web browser interface:

MyCloud Interface

Cost and Ease of Use

You can buy a 2TB drive for about $100, which is cheaper and faster than just about any other backup solution. Back in the old days, we would use CDROM, DVDROM and Blu-ray drives to back up data as the cheapest and most versatile way. There is also tape backup, but it is slow and finicky. Using cheap hard drives is way easier. I made a rough table to compare all the solutions, using average data rates and capacities. I wouldn’t quote these numbers, but they are accurate enough to give you a sense of the difference.

CDROM DVDROM BD BDXL HDD
CAPACITY per disc 650MB 7.96GB 50GB 100GB 1TB
NUMBER discs per TB 1538 discs 126 discs 20 discs 10 discs 1HDD
UNIT COST/disc $0.10 $0.75 $2 $10 $80
COST of discs $153.85 $94.22 $40.00 $100.00 $80
COST of drive or interface $10 $50 $80 $100 $25
TIME switching/labeling 26 hours 2 hours 20 min 10 min 1 min
TIME waiting (ideal) 157 hours 16 hours 5 hours 5 hours 2 hours

The hard drive solution wins by my analysis. For about $100, you can get a USB3 dock and a bare 1TB drive. You don’t have to switch discs or waste your time labeling them. While it’s not quite making the 100MB/sec transfer rate for a normal USB3 hard drive (probably due to it writing individual files as opposed to copying blocks), I don’t have to think about it at all. When the backup is done, I’ll take the hard drive and put it in a case for safe-keeping:

Storage Cases I have some nice red betamax-style cases, and a newer plastic blue case. They’re around $6 a-piece and look neat. Hard drives are fragile so you don’t want to be rough with them (there’s one advantage to DVDR media). I will get a second 3TB drive and alternate between this one and the other so I can have a rotating backup system.

Why not just use Time Machine or something else?

Good question! I have never figured out how to use Time Machine, and since I use both a Mac and a PC regularly with the same fileset, I’m not sure Time Machine will work for me. Right now, this is the solution that seems to work. Plus, I get the versatility of having a separate USB3 hard drive dock. I can use it with my Mac or my PC if I need to backup something specifically, like a big video project to its own dedicated disk.

With all the stuff I’ve been doing recently, it’s nice to be able to finally get this solution in place. And this is the final THING-A-DAY for November! Whew!



About this Article Series

I'm challenging myself to create something new every day for the month of November 2014! The November Challenge Page lists everything in one place...check it out!

1 Comment

  1. Paul 2 years ago

    “the hard drive will have aged to the point where the power supply can no longer spin it up due to increased resistance.” This exact thing occurred to my WD device this weekend. An extra HD backup IS an excellent thing.

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