Hard Drive Failures, File Storage, and Recovery in a nutshell..
Some secret wisdom from the Tech Closet:
- Stay away from huge drives. Those 2 TB, 3TB & 4 TB may seem to be “all that and a bag of chips”, but when they fail (and they will) – you will lose “all that”, and your bag of chips. Instead, for personal use, look for a reliable and highly rated Network Attached Storage Device (NASd) and load it up with smaller Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) (I prefer the 1TB Western Digital “Green” or “Blue”); they are reliable for three to five years (depending on how many power cycles they are forced to endure). Smaller HDDs tend to have faster seek/access times too. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are becoming popular and affordable, but are currently a bit pricy and are not competing well on speed per dollar. With SSDs, there are no moving parts, so there’s less to go wrong, no noise and less power consumption, but are incredibly sensitive to Electrostatic Discharge (ESD).
- HDD’s (and computers) fail 100% for two reasons: a) Changes in power conditions, a power-on cycle surge or “brown-out” kills a component or data. b) External physical force or energy encourages a hardware failure. Leaving your computer ON (or a NASd drive – preferred) reduces the chance of a hardware failure by 95% or better. Some of the corporate Backbone PC’s I service for Hardware Upgrades on the field were born in 1998 and have only been powered off/on by power outages, but are still running reliably (and slowly) versus the incalculable number of PC’s and servers I service for Repairs for failures, which are power-cycled daily and sometimes several times a day. “A” is easy to address, simply connect your PC/NASd equipment to a UPS and leave it on; it’s 95% less likely that you will experience a data failure due to changes in power conditions. “B” is equally easy to address, don’t drop your equipment or handle it without using Static-Discharge & Anti-Static gear (those silver ESD bags & dumb little wrist straps with an alligator clip designed to equalize the energy between you and the components to prevent static charges from zapping hardware).
Now, let’s talk about Storage Options…
Cloud storage is the best option simply because the overall lifetime cost of reliable hardware is greater than the cost of a decent paid storage plan. Consider that a decent NASd will cost you at least 200$, and a pair of 1TB HDDs another 200$. Add the amount of power the hardware consumes for the three or four years it serves you and you end up spending at least 500$ – 600$ easily. HDDs fail; it’s a simple fact of computer life, and the sooner you accept it and get over it, the better off you will be when it happens. Mind that you will have to hook the NASd to your system, supply it with a power outlet so it can quietly supply the mindless drone of a cooling fan and the tech-geeky ticking of HDD chatter, it will occupy the small space on your desk where you once used to keep the funny cat photos that made you laugh daily, and the cords behind your desk become that much more complicated (not to be confused with “complex”).
It’s year two and a half and one of those 1TB HDDs fail inside of the four years and now you’re suddenly stressed out and looking for software data recovery options. A reliable data recovery package can be expensive and you might only use it twice, ever. Add to that, it IS very time consuming and can be very complicated to operate & successfully recover data. Keep adding, because when you DO recover the data, 98% of the time it is presented to you in a “Nonsensical” manner and you now have to sort through a combination of thousands of MBs of duplicate files, empty files and folders, ghost data, and sometimes a file structure that looks like it’s written in secret code. After you’ve sorted through that mess, you have your data back and it all starts making sense again, but only after you’ve spent another 100$ to replace the HDD that failed, let’s say about 100$ on reliable Low Level Recovery software, countless hours (probably at least two or three weeks) in the combined recovery and sorting process (imagine you bill that time at a minimum of 25$/hr) and the initial 600$ easily becomes more than 2000$.
Let’s use the initial 600$ cost and apply that to Cloud-Based Storage Solution (CBSS). You can easily find a CBSS for around 100$/YEAR.. No maintenance; No power consumption; No noise; No wires; 6 YEARS (at 100$/Yr) of Redundant Backup Service AND you don’t have to relocate those funny cat photos on your desk for all to enjoy. That’s about it.
Naturally, I encourage you to research the CBSS options, compare them and read the fine print. Some require their own proprietary “Backup/Sync” software to be installed on your PC for it to work (I would personally avoid those); MOST cloud services (oddly) do not permit certain types of file storage (ie: complete System Backup or Software); some have restrictions on photo storage; their “definition” of unlimited is NEVER “unlimited” by definition; there are always independent File-Size limitations, and lastly; some of them have bandwidth limitation that don’t make sense (especially for power users).
If you want to go with paid cloud storage, do your research and make a plan that makes sense for how you operate. If you’re a photographer, separate your images from your data; use a reliable and highly rated service like SmugMug.com for photo storage and DropBox, GoogleDrive, or Microsoft OneDrive for document storage.
You can get easily away with Free cloud storage if you departmentalize your files and spread them out across the free services and especially if you learn how to embrace the “Scan-to-eMail” system of document management. You can easily get 50GB or more of FREE CBSS by combining DropBox, OneDrive, Box, GoogleDrive, and Copy for your document solution and go with a separate photo service for your photos and images. Naturally you will research them and find the services that makes the most sense for how you operate.
Another clever tool is something most people don’t even think about; eMail. “Scan-to-eMail” is becoming increasingly popular for good reason, it’s super easy to do, super easy to search for a document/file, super easy to organize, offers a super huge unlimited storage capacity, data loss is super rare, and it’s super free. I currently operate a “Paperless Office”, which is difficult to truly understand until you’ve experienced it, but it’s absolutely the best option for Offline File Storage. I’ve setup an email account that I will use specifically for document storage and archival, and combined with other free cloud services, it opens the door to what I like to call my “Virtual Office”.
As an example, I’ll give you a brief tour of my Home Office “Data Logistics” Plan (* FREE):
- GMail (GM) is used for Document Archival Storage (DAS). *
- Google Drive (GD) is used for my “Work Related” Files and more “Official” documents/photos I may need to email. *
- DropBox (DB) syncs my “Operational Files” (files/documents/images that I’m working with currently) and Cellphone photos and updates any PC/Device that is connected with that DB account in real-time. *
- SnapFish (SF) offers me a Free & Unlimited CBSS for my images/photos. *
- FaxZero.com is my fax machine for those that insist on operating like its 1989. *
- Adobe Acrobat (not Reader) is used to convert, create and manage documents. *
- Acrobat.com allows me to store and share files. *
- My PC uses a 1TB HDD that is partitioned into a 100 GB C: for the OS/Programs, and the rest D: (800 GB) for files; I set the all the “Locations” of my folders and programs to use D:\ and my default folder for everything accordingly (MyDocs/MyPics/MyMusic/Downloads/DB/GD/ect.). This allows me to repair/update/format/reimage my C: without concern of any document/file loss. I setup my laptop the same way. My PC is connected to an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) to prevent power surges, brown-outs & outages from shutting down my system or damaging hardware.
- 1TB NASd is located in a secured closet with my network gear (Cable Modem, Router, Bridge, Switch, Hub), also connected to it’s own “Network UPS” to keep the network alive and prevent hardware damage. The NASd serves as my “Local File Server” which syncs my PC files on a daily schedule at 3AM when I’m sure to be off the system or network and in bed not worrying about data loss.
- 1TB USB 3.0 drive for monthly “cloning” of my NASd as my “OffLine” backup.
- 4.7GB DVD Archival Set of files that are not already archived or were updated. It’s best to create a DVD Archive when you reach the 4GB mark of new/updated files; this is difficult to watch and schedule, so I only perform this yearly. Since a DVD relies on its delicate surface to remain clear/scratch free, this technology is only as reliable as the method/protocol used to store and access the media, and as a result I typically use C/DVD media for the temporary use of transporting Operational Files. This media is currently being made obsolete by the availability of USB Flash Media. I don’t even think I use CD’s anymore; I can’t recall the last time I even used one for data storage (I think it was 2007).
- USB Flash Media drives (UFMD) are used like 1.44Mb Floppy Diskettes were used back in 1985. I use UFMDs for almost every sort of Operational File that has to be transported. Quality UFMDs are about 98% reliable and they are so common that some companies are actually starting to expect you to have an updated copy of your resume or application on one for job interviews (highly recommended). Some allow up to 100,000 write/erase cycles and have a proposed 10-year shelf storage time. BitLocker can be used to secure the contents for when you happen to misplace them, and some even have Bio-Metric Fingerprint Scanners on them.
Research articles for Photo Storage/Sharing Solutions:
Research articles for Cloud Based Storage Solutions:
Virtual Office Space for Collaboration:
Hard Drive Failures, File Storage, and Recovery in a nutshell by Charles “ZaqHydN” Shaffer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.