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Meeting SMB Archiving Challenges

As I look around my office, I see a computing environment that, though unusual for someone who works alone, is fairly representative of a small business: multiple printers, multiple servers, and a small number of client computers. My environment looks like this because I make a concerted attempt to use the technologies I write about, so I need to have application servers and desktop clients of various types available. Interestingly, I manage to use regularly almost everything I've set up. And not surprisingly, backup is an issue I've learned to deal with.

Because of the nature of what I do, my test installations are fairly static. This means that I can create and store hard-disk images of installed applications and OSs, then back up those images to DVD. This process has worked well for me for several years, and finding the appropriate DVD when I need it is usually just a matter of pulling it out of my DVD index file. For my desktop workspace, I use a pair of mirrored drives for high reliability, and as I finish each project, I back it up to one of my servers. These files are usually fairly small, and even the text of an entire book, including images, rarely would have trouble fitting, uncompressed, on a CD-R disc. So as a result, my combination of mirrored drives and optical media backups has been sufficient to see me through a couple of major system crashes over the last few years. Certainly, restoring the system was painful, but I've rarely lost any data that was more than a day or two old.

But a change in my work habits has me rethinking my backup strategies. I've recently resumed photography, for both professional and personal use, and find that I can now suck up storage at a greatly accelerated rate. Shooting with digital SLR cameras that create "raw" images of around 8MB or 12MB per image is a good way to fill up your available hard drives. On a recent working vacation, I took an average of 400 images a day, for 10 days, or roughly 40GB worth of pictures. And basically, that's 40GB of digital negatives; most of the images get converted to JPEG or TIFF format, depending on my planned use for them. Although JPEG files are usually less than 2MB each, TIFF images can be as large as 65MB each.

The amount and size of the files is only a small part of the problem. Unlike most of my backups, backed-up image data doesn't age out of use. Six months or 2 years down the road, I might need an image that has long since been archived, and I need to be able to find it with a minimum of effort. As long as the images are stored in online storage, finding them is simple. I have an easy way to navigate my storage system for images according to the date the images were shot and a cross-reference by the category the image falls in (e.g., landscape, industrial, people). But for this system to work, I need to be able to keep the images online and, for safety's sake, have an offline backup available.

My current solution to the problem is a pair of large external hard drives and folder-synchronization software that keeps the drives content-matched. I started doing this originally with my digital audio collection after ripping my entire CD collection to Windows Media Audio (WMA) files resulted in 60,000-plus tracks averaging about 5MB each. The music collection is fairly static, resides on four separate hard drives on my network, and is backed up, by artist, to data DVDs. It started out on mirrored pairs, but when I reripped my collection in a lossless audio format, I found that I needed all my available storage just for the original tracks.

So like many small businesses, I find myself with a lot of in-use data storage and a growing data-storage and organization problem. My old strategies are breaking down, and I'll be reporting back on what I find to deal with the potential terabytes of data that my small business will need to use and archive. It should be an interesting search

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