Monday, December 12, 2005

Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed: Backup This!

Seems like more and more people are using external USB drives. Every time I go to Sam's club or Costco these days they have some previously unheard-of amount of storage on sale for around $100. Noticing that I had accumulated two of these things, I decided to do something fancier than just hooking them up to the USB ports on my laptop...

For a long time my backup strategy has been to always be actively using at least two computers at any given period of time and then to just network-copy all my important things from one to the other. Generally this has taken the form of a desktop machine and a laptop with a hefty sized hard drive.

Since I travel less now, I've taken to using a new laptop (Powerbook) as a desktop replacement and my older laptops as more expendable devices that I can carry around an not worry about getting lost or broken. Between photo collections and music, no laptop has enough disk space to save it all anyway, so I too got an external USB drive, which I left disconnected most of the time, just in case.

I recently came to the conclusion that it makes more sense to just use the external drive for almost everything as well as for backup. I obtained yet another external drive (for $99 I find these things hard to resist). But on top of that, I also got (experimentally at first) a Linksys NLSU2 which supports two USB drives and makes them available on the network as SMB/CIFS file shares supported by Windows, OS X and Linux (I use all three at times). You can use both drives for different purposes if you wish, but as an alternative you can also set up the second drive strictly as a backup of the first. Not quite as good as RAID perhaps, but it's smart enough to do an incremental backup, and you can schedule the backups for every day if you wish and I noticed that while my first backup took a couple of hours (the device is not lightening fast by any means) the subsequent backups only run a few minutes and I schedule them for 5AM when I'm sure to be sleeping.

So far I'm pretty happy with this thing (I've only had it for a couple weeks), but be aware that there are firmware updates already out for it which should probably be applied before first use.

Now when I am on my various machines I generally am working directly from the networked drive and keeping my local hard drive relatively clean. When traveling I just allow and hour or so to copy down anything I want to take with me. When it comes right down to it, the notion of keeping important things one "the network" rather than on individuals machines makes as much sense for the home user as it does in business, and now that can be accomplished without spending big bucks.

As a bonus, I've noticed that the Western Digital drives spin down after a few minutes of not being used. The Maxtor drive I have doesn't share this desirable property. With the two WD drives and the Linksys I just leave everything running all the time and don't worry about heat, power or wear and tear. I keep the boxes out of sight on top of my computer hutch, but with a wireless G network (properly secured) I could put them just about anywhere. The Linksys also works as an FTP server and, while not quite a web server, you CAN get to your files (but not update them) via a web interface. I haven't used this capability yet, but in theory I could set it up as a file server to be accessed remotely without having to leave a computer running all the time as I have in the past.

I guess you have to be a bit of a geek to set something like this up, but it was pretty easy as such things go and I'm quite sure that there will be even more turnkey solutions in the near future. The home data-center has arrived. And it runs Linux by the way.

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