Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Drobo v. ReadyNas I: My Needs

DJ and I have had some major technology failures the past few months, and this had prompted me to revisit our computer storage.

What does that mean? Well, individual computers store stuff on their hard drives. File servers -- often just called "servers" -- store stuff on their hard drives, in a way that other computers can access them. While it is pretty easy to set up a way to share files between our computers, that is not the only issue. We also need somewhere to back up our data.

You see, if a computer has a problem, it can be a pain to copy data off of it. If the problem is the hard drive, the data can even be lost. Which is bad.

In my view, Apple's Time Machine (TM) -- part of the latest version of Mac OS X -- is a great backup solution. However, it's not perfect. At times, it needs quite a bit of storage. The other issue -- one I've long pointed to -- is that laptop users cannot simply plug in an external drive as easily as desktop users. The laptop might not even be in the same room as the external drive, and the laptop moves around, even when it is in the same room. Therefore, the shared storage/backup drive should be on a network. Now that Time Machine allows backing up across a network, I've been thinking about how I want to set things up.

(Yes, TM has supported backing up to another computer's external drive for a while, but we don't have -- or even want -- that desktop computer. Nor would we want it on all the time, sucking up power. Yes, TM works with Apple's Time Capsule, but that's not what I want. 1) It's largely redundant with my existing wireless router. 2) The cost of storage is too high. 3) The storage is not expandable. 4) The storage is a single source of failure.)

The list in that previous parenthetical paragraph forms the basis for what I am looking for.
  1. I want to hook up my shared/backup storage to my network.
  2. I am cost conscious about it, especially looking forward. I understand startup costs, of course. But I don't want it to be extra expensive to add storage later. And I'd rather not spend money to replace equipment I already have, unless I am really adding something new.
  3. I want the storage to be expandable. I've been using a serious of external drives to hold my backups, and I am sick of that. I don't want to have to look though multiple volumes to find something. Moreover, TM backup stores cannot span volumes. So, what ever I do must support expandable volumes.
  4. I want some sort of data redundancy, so a single drive failure does not mean lost data. You see, all hard drives die. The only question is whether you will still be using them when they do. If you are lucky, no. But if you are not, well, that really sucks.
These features strike me as really advanced. When I was working in IT, there were expensive solutions to handle all of this. You see, these are not new issues at all. The shocker is that there are consumer level products that can deal with all of this. 

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