26 March 2016

Backups & RAID

I often get asked what the best solution is for backing up your data - a question that is best asked BEFORE you lose all of your precious digital memories, but sadly is often asked afterwards.

These days it's not uncommon for a typical family with a couple of kids in Junior School or higher to easily have in excess of 20-30 hours of video footage (still waiting to be edited) and several 1000 images. By the time your kids are ready to graduate it's a safe bet that you can double that - and at that size, chances are it won't all fit on your computer/s hard drive/s - which means you need a way to back up those files AND get them off your computer hard drive.

But first things first.

For storage of images and video you need to use a local computer hard drive, most likely the hard drive of your Mac. And to back this up you should use an external hard drive with Dropbox or Google Drive for everyday files, and Time Machine for everything else.

The problem comes when your local Mac Hard Drive is FULL, and you need to move that media off your Mac, just dumping onto an external drive is not good enough, as if that drive fails, (quite likely in my experience) you lose everything.

You can buy ANY Hard drive, they can all be reformatted on a Mac, using the Disk Utility Application, which will erase the drive and make it Mac (Mac OS Journaled), if you want to use it with Time Machine, or FAT 32 if you don't want to use it with Time Machine, and want to be able to read and write to the drive from a Mac or PC.

If you plug a brand new drive into a Mac, you should get a prompt from Time Machine asking you to format the drive automatically, all you have to say is YES!


What did you say? RAID? Do I really need to know about this—in a word YES. If you have a large amount of data you can't fit on your computer drive, then yes you need to learn about RAID for your backup solution. RAID means Random Array of Independent Disks, it means having your data backed up to more than one hard drive, so if one drive fails, and they do, you have another drive with your data on it.

If you do use a separate hard drive, make sure that you always have the data in TWO locations, otherwise it's not backed up, just moved. So if your Mac is FULL and you need to make space, this is not a good solution.

The solution for moving data off your HDD completely is to use a 'Hard Drive Enclosure' With a couple of Hard Drives plugged in.This is a 'RAID' set up... a big black box ($150 USD) with space for 4 drives to slot in, each drive can hold about 1 TB or more depending on what you buy...

Here in Singapore I bought the Probox 4 Bay for $195, at Sim Lim Square (Best Bargain and I bought two 1.5TB internal drives to slot into it ($70 USD each), so I still have two spare lots for later expansion...

I make one drive copy the other, so I don't have to keep it on my Mac - remember if the data is not in two places it's not backed up.

Mine looks like this when it's open, you can see where the internal drives can be slotted in, as easy as Lego.
They come in all sorts of shaped and sizes, but they all work the same way, data on one of the drives is copied onto another drive in the same enclosure, so now it IS backed up, and you can free up that space on your computer.

The process of copying that data from one drive to another can be done automatically, some of the more expensive solutions come with built in software that does this automatically, or you can just do it yourself, by copying data from one to the other manually, a bit tedious, but it gets the job done.

A prettier (and more expensive) RAID solution by Drobo

If you're confused about sizes of hard-drives, see my other post here. But a guide would be that each internal drive needs to be at least 1 Terabyte, so if you buy 2 you effectively have one, as the second drive is just mirroring the first one.