Backing Up


Over time, as the volume of data we’ve got sitting around has built up, the prospect of what would happen were a hard drive to go wrong has become more and more of an issue. Whilst we could reinstall software, loosing things like our digital pictures is a lot more of an issue.

For a while I’ve been picking up external hard drives, which are okay, but what I really needed was something big that could take backups of everything. After searching around, I looked at building my own network attached server using an old PC, but price wise it seemed better to go for something built for the job as I’d have to spend a bit of money bringing an old PC up to a suitable spec. I eventually went for the Buffalo Terastation, a unit that contains four separate 250Gb hard drives, which can be configured in a number of ways. Out of the box it is set up in a single 750Gb RAID-5 array – which balances size over security – in theory were one of the four drives to fail and have to be replaced, the unit would be able to rebuild the missing data automatically from the remaining three drives. On paper the unit also supports both the PC’s and the Mac, offering Windows networking, FTP and also AppleTalk. The only major standard it doesn’t support is NFS.

The unit actually arrived a couple of weeks ago, however one problem I quickly discovered is that whilst it isn’t particularly noisy, it does vibrate, more annoyingly the vibration level varies in a regular cycle which at certain frequencies resonates the floorboards in the house. This means that whilst it is relatively quiet in the room upstairs, downstairs it is much more audible. I’ve paid a visit to QuietPC and it’s slightly better, but I’m still not leaving the unit on unless I’m backing up to it.

Today I started on the backups. On the PC I’m using Acronis True Image, as they have finally added support for XP64 to their home product. The problems I’ve run into with the Mac side though are down to combinations of limitations with the hardware and the software. I’ve had a copy of Superduper for a while, and it’s a nice little bit of software for backing up hard drives, with some nice features. However when it comes to backing up to a network drive, the suggested solution is a big problem – using a mountable disk image.

Looking at the Terastation there are two choices for mounting a share up on the Mac, using the Windows networking, or AppleTalk. In terms of speed, AppleTalk is by far the best, however it has a major limitation – the maximum file size is 2Gb. Now I don’t have any 2Gb files sitting around, so all would be fine if Superduper would do a straight backup, but it won’t. As it is creating a drive image, this is going to end up as over 2Gb, so it’s back to the much slower Windows networking implementation. It is worth noting that Apple only really retain AppleTalk for backwards compatibility, their favoured option being NFS – indeed a read of their Windows Compatibility document finds them recommending using AppleTalk and NFS over Windows networking for home directories. The other way around the problem may be to use FTP instead – create the backup image and FTP it across. Some further experimentation is called for methinks.

3 thoughts on “Backing Up”

  1. I think this is an excellent idea. Since hard disc drive capacities far outstrip the capacities of removable platter media – even the upcoming multi-layer DVD systems – backup of crucial data is a real problem.

    However, keep in mind that even the most stringent RAID systems are not indestructible; RAID drives can fail. There is also the problem of having all your data storage hardware in a single physical location. A house fire (God forbid), for example, could wipe your whole data store.

    If one was paranoid, and if money wasn’t an object, the best bet is to have two such systems running with one moved to a separate physical location after the initial backup and “delta backups” made over the Internet, possibly through a VPN connection if you are worried about moving confidential data like personal financial records.

    Maybe if you can talk Howard into doing the same the two of you could swap “secondary backup arrays” 🙂 However, if your ISP places bandwidth usage limits on your internet access added costs for the backups may make the system financially impractical.

    It is a question of how much money you wish to invest in “data security”, and whether the level of added security is worth the added cost to you.

  2. Indeed, whilst RAID5 relies on only one drive failing at one, if two go you’ve got a problem. One other option is to back up the Terastation too. If you look at the picture you can see a couple of USB ports on the front – the system supports plugging in external USB drives, so you could back up the contents onto those and store those off site.

  3. And on a separate, but related note, please note in the photo the outdated and dead bits of computer that are lodged in the same cupboard as the Terastation…

    Any other partners have to put up with bits of dead computer hanging about for ‘parts’ or because ‘it’s a classic!’??

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