Inexpensive External Storage Brings Benefits--But You've Got to Back It Up

Since the beginning of 2007, I've spent almost $1,000 on storage devices for my small office/home office (SOHO) network. Given how I use my network, it's not all that surprising an amount, but it has reinforced one thing in my mind: There's far more online storage in use than backup storage. All my recent spending has been on 500GB USB/1394 connected external storage devices. My spending represents the addition of more than 3TB of online storage devices to my network, bringing my total local storage capacity to a little more than 7TB. Although I have tape backup devices, none of them would be practical to back up even half that amount of live data. Fortunately for me, only 2TB or so of that 7TB of storage is live data--the largest number of files includes tens of thousands of RAW image files and media files.

If you're wondering why I keep that much digital media online, it's primarily because about one-third is my music collection that's ripped from my large CD collection as variable bit rate (VBR) Windows Media Audio (WMA) files. Another one-third is my personal digital photography data, including 15,000 or so RAW image files (and growing regularly). The last one-third is my last year or so worth of editorial work: reference documents, applications, and works in progress. All this data gets backed up by being mirrored to either external drives on the same computer or to my Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 box.

I have a large amount of storage dedicated to what I call "reference data." This includes dozens of application and OS ISO disk images, 30 or so .vhd files of different Windows Server and client configurations, and archived project files. Since all this data is static, I keep one copy of it live and a second copy stored on a 500GB drive that's kept offline--except for a monthly backup of changes to this data store (if necessary).

So after all that, about 30 percent of my available storage is currently empty. I tend to move data off of my two primary workstations to secondary live storage to keep as much available space on my working storage set as possible. Of the 7TB of my available hard disk storage, more than half of it is dedicated to archival and backup purposes. And my storage configuration isn't finished yet; I have plans for more aggressive system imaging so that I can more easily recover from a crashed workstation or server, which will eventually require even more storage.

I've brought up this topic because, unfortunately, I've found that many of my small-business clients have also discovered the availability of inexpensive external storage. And these same clients have started haphazardly adding storage to many of the computers in their small networks. Of the dozen clients I've talked to, not one has made any provisions to back up the data they're now dumping on the large-capacity external drives. The most extreme cases were two different clients who were using a USB hard drive to take work home. The only problem was that in both cases, the hard drive being moved from place to place contained the only copy of the data stored on it.

To help my clients change their lax backup habits, I've started sitting down with them and reinforcing data backup and recovery plans as the number-one priority for their day-to-day operations. I've managed to convince most of them that the simple expedient of running the Microsoft SyncToy PowerToy download and setting up folder pairs to back up their critical data to a USB disk that stays in the office is the way to go. Although I received some phone calls during the initial data replication phase--complaining about how long it was taking and that SyncToy was eating up all the computer's system resources--not one has complained about the daily updating. This is because the small amount of data changed daily takes only a few seconds to update from each computer and is being run as a Windows scheduled task each afternoon.

Inexpensive storage is both a boon and a bane to the small business. Properly used, it can make everyone's lives a little simpler. Left to run amok, inexpensive storage means that data will be scattered and unprotected throughout the small business enterprise--a condition that no one should have to deal with.

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