Keeping stuff safe

Keeping stuff safe

Summary: Home RAID and LOCKSSGreat discussion here and on StorageMojo on home RAIDOver on StorageMojo the discussion is converging on a low-overhead (in human cycles) solution consisting of local NAS + some kind of automated remote backup. Anybody holding a piece of Mozy or Carbonite should feel good.



Great discussion here and on StorageMojo on home RAID Over on StorageMojo the discussion is converging on a low-overhead (in human cycles) solution consisting of local NAS + some kind of automated remote backup. Anybody holding a piece of Mozy or Carbonite should feel good.

Dateline reality: The Voice of Experience StorageMojo got a great comment from a gentleman who identified himself as a designer of a popular RAID-ed NAS appliance for the SOHO market. He also said he runs a user group and an FAQ for the product. Here's what he said:

I was a big proponent of RAID until I found that our customers were placing so much faith in RAID that they were putting all their data on the NAS and then _deleting_ it from ALL other locations. In many cases, they had no off-site storage strategy for their data.

There are multiple ways to lose both drives at once, as we’re finding. For example, in the case of a lightning strike, we had a customer lose both drives, and his mirrored data, even though the PC which was on a surge protector was unscathed. There’s also the case where if you accidentally delete or corrupt a file from one drive, the mirroring function with dutifully delete or corrupt it on the other. RAID cannot protect you from data loss in the event of fire, flood or theft. So I’m now of the opinion that a safer solution is to have an off-site strategy with drives that can be periodically cycled rather than using a RAID-only solution for home users.

It’s not that I don’t like RAID. I do use it myself. It’s just that sometimes we think of a hard drive crash as the only way to lose data and forget about all the other ways the data can be lost.

Whoa, Nelly! It never occurred to me that customers might consider RAID so safe that they'd delete all other copies. It boggles my mind.

Yet it fits with what I see here in small town America: people relying on computers who don't understand them. They're willing to follow directions to get what they want - they just need to know what to do.

The only data protection strategy that works IMHO, there is only one data preservation strategy - not tactic - that works: Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) which is, IIRC, the trademarked name of a non-profit group out of Stanford that supports libraries.

Lots of copies for consumers is probably three, maybe four. At least one remote copy.

What do you copy? The My Documents (Windows) or Documents (Mac) folder, at a minimum. Weekly drag and drop or a backup program, your choice. Perhaps to different media such as magnetic, optical or flash.

There is more than one way to copy On my POP accounts, I've set Mail to delete the server copy 30 days after download. So I have two copies of every email for the past month without lifting a finger. Why isn't that the default for mail clients?

I also keep the CDs I've ripped into iTunes, so those are backed up as well. Multiple copies needn't mean more work or disk capacity.

Many voices, one message: lots of copies I propose that the storage industry get an independent consortium together to promote the importance of data copies to consumers. If we can just get that across to users - not worrying about RAID, local or remote, NAS or SAN, optical or magnetic - we will perform a valuable public service.

Consumers who care can focus on ensuring they have multiple copies of their data. Everyone who provides products or services that preserve data, from ISPs to NAS boxes to USB disks, could include the Keep Stuff Safe message.

The Storage Bits take Sure, the industry would probably sell more storage. That's not the point. We'd be helping people who don't understand the technology do the right thing. Once they get the message they can think about what works best for them given their needs and resources.

Digital literacy includes the care and preservation of digital data. Educating consumers now will save many much expense and pain later.

Comments welcome, of course. I'm very pleased with the quality of the attention this issue has received.

Topic: CXO

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  • Off-site for home users.

    When I've persuaded people to make copies of their essential records, they keep the record safely in sight.

    Telling them about (paid) web storage and explaining they could buy the chance to upload and maintain additional copies would not increase my popularity.

    Computers are not much different from paper in protection from fire. The best chance is to recommend a safe, for both papers and CDs.

    Anton Philidor
    • In a word, yes.

      I use a fire safe to store my backup firewire disk. I am planning to use off-site
      backup because I like the idea of yet another option.
      Off-site is getting cheaper, as it should, yet it isn't really useful for large amounts
      of data because broadband is still slow. It would take many days to download 50
      GB data over my WISP connection.<br>

      I also believe that we should tell people what we think is "best" and let them
      decide what to do. If they don't and they later get burned, well, that is a risk they


      R Harris
      • Did you verify the max internal temperature...

        of the safe vs the max storage temp of the hard drive ???
        • Hm-m-m? How would that work?

          The safe guarantees a one-hour fire protection. Which should mean that the
          internal temperature will not rise above 451 degrees Fahrenheit - ignition temp of
          paper - in that one hour. Disk drive storage temp specs are well below that.

          Net net: my plan probably wouldn't work so well.

          Which is why I want the automated off-site storage like Carbonite or Mozy. They'd
          take days to recover, but at least I'd have the data eventually. The local recovery is
          much faster, which is why that is a good option too.


          R Harris
          • Funny how paper is more durable than a hard drive...

            under certain circumstances (Temp).
          • Paper has fewer moving parts

            As long as the aluminum disks don't warp I suspect the data is just fine. It is the
            other components, such as lubricants, motors and some of the more delicate
            electronics that I suspect would go first.

            R Harris
          • I suspect the media on the platters will flake or melt off first.

  • I just tell people

    to backup what they can't easily replace. For me it is just pictures and my checkbook. The pictures get put on DVD and placed in our safety-deposit box. The checkbook gets backed-up to a flash drive. And, in all honesty, the checkbook isn't that important either since all my records are available online or can be recreated from my statements. And I don't do either regularly because the loss of either, while sad, is not detrimental.
    Patrick Jones
  • both

    Simple do both!

    Have 3 external-drives; one your master-drive, the second your on-site mirror, the third your off-site mirror.

    Cycle your on-site and off-site mirrors, with a periodic dump to off-site DVDs/Blu-Ray Discs/Whatever.

    see my comment here for full-details of how I do it, and what I'd like manufacturers to produce....
  • Off site could be something simple

    Off site could be as simple as a friend or neighbors house, or a safety deposit box, or
    a paid location.

    For most home users, I suspect that dropping off a bunch of DVD's with their backup
    data on them would suffice. (they could hold the backups for their friends in

    doesn't have to be a huge deal.
    • Exactly.

      Of course it works better if you both can encrypt it too! An hope the fire doesn't get both houses... :)

      The size of the backups can be surprisingly small once a good 'image' is taken. A weekly incremental should suffice after that. (with special treatment if necessary for special items).
  • I have business customers

    who cannot afford to lose their data. I set their servers up with raided hard drives and also have a local client computer automated to copy the critical data from the server to the client's local drive each night after hours. Twice a month I bring a portable hard drive on site and copy all new/changed files to it. When I return to my office I cut DVDs of that data for archiving. In this way I feel their data is about as safe as is reasonably possible. I charge a fair amount for the service, but my customers are more comfortable having a human being that they have known for many years come in regularly to do the backup rather than use an internet service.
    • Good point

      Are customers buying safety or peace of mind?

      On line might be as safe, but dealing with you they get peace of mind. And its worth

      R Harris
  • Did people back their stuff up when they used floppy disks?

    very few.

    I back my stuff up to DVD and bring it to my office location.

    You could leave it in your car, but if someone breaks in or steals it then they have your data. Safetey deposit box is safer but not convenient. Probably the safest way is to back it up online to a specialized storage service which encrypts the data during transfer. I recommend this to any business. but its expensive.

    For home users.. probably the easiest way.. install an inground round (cylinder type) safe into a concrete pad near the center of the house. Place all documents into a plastic air tight bag and lock the safe. These types of safes can withstand flood/fire/tornado and dont cost too much to install and they are convenient.

    The problem with backing up stuff is size of the backup. If i want to backup 1TB of data.. its going to be expensive( ultrium drives are 2-4G's).. its a matter of how much your willing to pay for data integrity.

    Heck i setup a business to backup to usb drives everynight, nas once a week and usb full once a month. i wouldnt call it 100%, but its what they were willing to spend money on.
    • well, I did

      I used to back up to what eventually became 15 floppies every week.

      Now, I back up to 15 DVD+Rs monthly and do my every-other-day backups to a mirror drive in a mobile rack. It's a lot easier and safer to mail a package of 15 DVDs cross-country than a hard drive. However, the PITA factor is even bigger than it was with floppies, I have to turn my drive into 4G archived chunks before I burn them to DVD.

      TVDs can't hit the market at prosumer prices soon enough to tuit me.
  • Simplicity and education is the key.

    There are many ways to perform automated backups right now, but most home users I've come across hardly use any. The most frequent and persistent complaint is "it's too complicated".

    However there [b]are[/b] solutions today which are not excessively complicated. Why don't they use them, then? Lack of user education.

    Every single home user I know who's lost a hard disk only realizes the importance of backups [b]after[/b] it's too late. Some have had precious photos dating 10+ years lost.

    At the end of the day we're dealing with human nature, there's probably nothing much we can do about it unless the pre-installed OS forces the user to make backups.
    • And we have to let the user define "simple"

      I have a friend who finds the process to save phone numbers on her cell phone
      too complicated.

      She just remembers dozens of phone numbers and keys them in as needed.

      I can't remember my own phone number, and I make lots of dialing mistakes
      anyway, so her method wouldn't work for me.

      Since I left Silicon Valley the stuff I see amazes me.

      R Harris
  • It has to be a no-brainer

    Assuming large businesses and organizations with any kind of IT staff have backup methodologies already in place (maybe a dangerous assumption, but I digress), the target audience here are home users, SOHO and small-business clients, most of whom have limited budgets, little time, and minimal computer knowledge. One of the other responders noted that most do not realize the value of backups until after disaster has already struck and I agree with that assessment. Another remarked that it has to be simple and I agree with that also, and will add that if you are an IT support professional, you have to make it inexpensive and a no-brainer "hands-off" solution as much as possible.

    Most users are lazy, in a rush to get to their application, or both. If you talk to them about the value of backup solutions, they will generally nod and agree that "gosh, I know I need to have backups" and after any such pep-talk, they might actually do manual backups for a short period of time, but as time goes on, it takes an increasingly back seat.

    If you can set up an automatic backup to an external drive or a secondary drive within the PC (or server), or both, that happens with no further human intervention other than you, as the IT pro, check periodically from time to time, then you have passed the first hurdle. Bear in mind that if you do this, you MUST monitor the backups to ensure they are occurring and are viable. If the system fails and it is discovered that the backups were not occurring, or were unusable, it is YOU who will be in the hotseat.

    An image of the primary hard drive and possibly an ASR disk is a good thing to have, but it won't restore current data or programs that have been added or updated since the image. It will, however, save you a significant amount of time in the event of total hard drive failure and replacement.

    It doesn't have to be expensive, either. A few hundred bucks for an external hard drive, an AVR-capable UPS with TELCO/Ethernet surge protection, and a simple backup program like DriveCopy XML (it's free, the last time I checked) or EMC Retrospect will go a long way for disaster preparedness. The backup program should be programed to run automatically, at times that don't impact normal use (usually after-hours).

    For offsite backups, if they have a CD or DVD burner, you can create a backup job to burn current and critical data to a CD or DVD that they can take off-site. Make an icon on the desktop to run the job (again, the no-brainer approach) and all the user has to do is put a blank disk in the drive and click the icon... say, once a week or so.

    One of our clients makes a ZIP file of his critical files and emails it to himself, which for him, with relatively small data backup requirements, works fine.

    Bottom line is that the easier and economical you can make it, the better chance that backups will be maintained.
  • Keeping Stuff Safe

    Members (350) of my computer club at the local senior center, if they back up at all, use CD-Rs. I have some that have failed in the past five years. I am happy now with a Western Digital USB Passport 120GB hard drive. Shirt pocket small, no power supply needed, and easily goes into the fireproof safe by my desk. I use it primarily for all my digital photos, which is why I like the small size and portability.

    But what about CD-Rs for backup? They are cheap; they can be burned in duplicate; they can be recopied every two years. Is that a valid strategy?
  • Good Idea, but...

    Most data has a limited life. How many Win 3.1 programs do you have on CD somewhere? Do you care? Making two copies of backups is easy and reduces the risk of a scratched disk causing file loss. On the other hand, organizing and culling the stuff on your hard disk makes backups and retrievals a whole lot easier.