iTech Review: Great Data Storage Choices

Technology Security

A few days ago, my computer decided it was time to die. Naturally, it was between backups and I had just uploaded a complete file of client’s files. I knew some tricks for trying to revive the hard drive for one last backup but nothing worked, so down to the local computer shop to see if anything could be done. The last time I took a computer in for service, it was $1,000 just for putting it on the service desk counter. I was a nervous wreck. Computer or pay my rent? Naturally, the computer would win.

The recent smashing of the tri-state area in the northeast by hurricane Sandy brought lots of comments and news to my Facebook feed. Most of the complaints were about not having power and more specifically, no internet. There are many things we can live without but computers, apparently, are not one of them. Even my kids, when younger, would be afraid to leave the computer desk for fear the other sibling would jump on and the other one would lose his turn. The amount of “accidents” showed me that computer time was more powerful than the bladder and to combat that addiction, I limited liquid intake for the kids as well as setting a timer to half hour sessions.

Nothing, however, is more important to your business as your computer. Without it and the installed software, my life came to a screeching halt. My laptop was purely for internet surfing and I hadn’t installed any software on it for writing or graphics. After my last move into new quarters, the box holding thousands of CD-ROMs was nowhere to be found. Naturally, I had other worries.

Backups are Number One!

In the early days of companies going digital, which wasn’t that long ago, in the scheme of the universe, if you didn’t backup your work on a SyQuest disk, you were out of luck when your computer crashed, as happened all too often. Still, the glitch about SyQuest disks is that if you shook them like an Etch-a-Sketch, dropped them, or kept them in a too warm place, data could be lost. External backup drives have gotten cheaper, smaller and certainly faster. Depending on the number of computers your business has and how much information needs to be stored will let you know what backup solution is best for you.

Online Storage Services

These services (also known as cloud services) store your data on the service provider’s drives. You access your data over the Internet and for increased security; they typically store your data at multiple locations. The services generally provide software for file encryption to keep your data secure and for scheduling automated, incremental backups. Most also offer remote file sharing.

Because your data isn’t on your premises, it’s safe from burglary or natural disaster such as fire or flood and there’s nothing to break or lose, you can add or subtract storage space as needed (usually at extra cost), and your backups are available anywhere over the Internet. One big consideration is that you must be comfortable trusting your data to a third party.

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Initial online backups are excruciatingly slow. It can take more than 24 hours to upload 9GB of data. With 25GB of data, an initial backup can take up to eight days. Consider leaving your computer powered on for the entire initial backup. Subsequent backups are much quicker, because they only involve files that have changed. Factors that affect backup speed include file type (for example, photos typically take longer than text documents), computer, connection speed, and your computer’s other activities during the backup and network traffic on your end and at the online service.

*The ability to view your files from any computer over an Internet connection can be useful when traveling. Most network drives have this ability, and it’s a given with online services. Keep in mind that you’ll need the associated application on the computer you’re using to open the files, which could be a problem in an Internet cafe.

There is also Dropbox and Microsoft’s SkyDrive (25GB free) to back up and share photos and Office documents from smartphones. If you can stand spreading certain files across the web, there are photo/image sites such as Photobucket, etc. that allow you to upload and download files easily. The problem can be security and sometimes sites go down, usually right when you need them.

To see different providers, prices and reviews, CLICK HERE

External Hard Drives

An external backup is a relatively simple and cheap solution and can handle one computer or a small network. Connecting the drive, usually via USB, and installing and configuring the software takes about fifteen minutes for a single computer. Most external drives come with backup software or you can use the backup utility that came with your operating system. Backup typically demands only a few keystrokes and a minute or two just before shutting down, after the initial backup, which can take hours. You can also schedule automatic backups at preset times, such as when your computer is idle.

As with online backups, subsequent backups are much quicker, because they only involve files that have changed. Naturally, the downside is the chance an external can be damaged, stolen or stop working before you know it and you might lose data. The good thing is that they are so cheap; you can buy two for backup.

For reviews, prices and capabilities of external hard drives, CLICK HERE

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Network Drives

Similar to external hard drives in form and function, but these connect to your router, providing backup and file-sharing access to all the computers on your network with greater storage space and speed. Also, setting up a network drive can be difficult and usually needs an expert to not only set up the backup system but also needs to service it on a regular basis.

USB Flash Drives

Those deceptively little sticks (or character figures and other fun shapes), flash drives are finally large enough to serve as computer-backup devices. Now, some manufacturers are making it even easier to use these tiny devices for backup by including the software you need to do so right on the device.

They are extremely handy and you can back up all of your data and carry it with you wherever you go. But there’s a downside to that portability. Small USB flash drives are easy to leave behind, lose or have stolen If you drop it, the drive might break and the data will be lost. For a simple, plug-it-in-and-back-up solution, these drives could be just right and the cost is so low, you can use several for backup, having one for travel, one for filing and one just in case. If you don’t have software that does automatic backups, you can miss a day or two and that could be disastrous for retrieving recent data if needed.

Flash drives, however, are not recommended for long-term storage. The data can deteriorate quickly, aside from the chance of breakage.

CD/DVD Burning

It doesn’t make sense to keep too much data on your hard drive no matter how much space is available. The more data you have, the slower your machine will become. As with many designers/illustrators/photographers, I make good use of inexpensive CD-ROMs and DVDs to burn past projects, pull them off my machine and store them in a rack in case they are needed later.

If you’re doing a few projects per week, each project can take up almost 1GB of storage. Over a month, over a year, perhaps several years, you can fill the largest hard drives and you will pay more for storage solutions. Online services will charge you more, extra external drives will cost you and the possible loss of data will really cost you!

Recordable CDs and DVDs, unfortunately, deteriorate over time. While that’s an agreed certainty, there is no real evidence of how long they’ll last. Their life expectancy depends greatly on the quality of media that is used, quality of burning device, environment they are kept in, way they are used etc. Media manufacturers sometimes do tests of accelerated aging of media that shows life expectancy of about 30 years if kept in proper conditions and handled properly. Since technology of recordable CD and DVD media is not old enough to confirm the exact life expectancy. For now, they are the preferred method of data storage.

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Another fear is that these magnetically stored disks may be subject to the same electromagnetic forces that people assume are giving us cancer, deteriorating the data while they sit on a shelf without lead-lined boxes protecting them. There’s little we can do about that in a life filled with electronics in every inch of our homes and offices.

One thing is sure; CDs and DVDs will outlive their own technology. As with the SyQuest, the Jazz disk, Zip disk and, lest we not forget the humble 1.98 MB Floppy Diskette, something better and cheaper will come along and we will be forced to reburn everything. Oddly enough, while I still have a Jazz drive, several Zip drives and who knows how many disks for each, I wouldn’t know how to daisychain these drives to a CD/DVD burner and I doubt these relics of OS 7 would even work on my computer.

Another consideration with stored data is the ever-changing operating systems for both PCs and MACs. In practice, any file should be able to open with a higher system but those of us who have been using computers for twenty years or more know this isn’t true. Inevitably, you will need that one project from 1992 and it won’t open. It seems, like old childhood memories, age wipes out certain data and there is little we can do about it unless we retell those stories to freshen them in our minds and reburn files every time Microsoft and MAC decide they can do it faster and better with a software upgrade. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I remember OS6 and Photoshop 1.

The Pain Continues!

The handy local computer shop is running a diagnostic tomorrow to see exactly how bad my computer is and what will be needed. I’m fairly positive it’s just the hard drive, which will set me back about $60 plus another $100 for service and data recovery, if possible. Whatever happens, I can look forward to many days of rebuilding, uploading software again, putting on the latest OS and making sure all the files go in the right place. I don’t have the time to do that, so it should be an ongoing process of replacing what I immediately need as I need it and spending precious little down time with fonts, client files, backgrounds, clip art and the heart break of seeing what may not have been backed up or is just lost to time and unreadable disks. Still, it’s better to have the information rather than not.

Images ©GL Stock Images

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