Computers / Buying Guide

Spring Resolution: Back Up Your Data

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I hate backing up. I do it, but I hate it. If you’re not running backups, you’re courting heartache. My cautionary tale: A few years ago, my brother and I were editing our first indie feature. Our data got corrupted. Nothing was backed up. We lost three months of post-production—the entire film. Starting from scratch nearly killed us. Don’t let it happen to you.

Data loss is more than an inconvenience—it can be emotionally debilitating. Losing a paper for class or a report for work is never great, but losing personal digital media is much, much worse. Imagine turning on your computer and no longer having your library of digital photos, music, and video. No more holiday pictures of friends and family; no mp3s of the time your band opened for Russian Vogue; no video of your backpacking expedition across Europe. Your new resolution: Back up. It’s not as hard as you might think.

The Apple Flux Capacitor

Companies like Apple make backup quite easy. If you’re running Mac OS X Leopard or later, your computer is already set up with Time Machine. Plug in an external hard drive, and your Mac will ask if you’d like to use it to back up your system. You can set the parameters for when and how often you’d like to back up.

Time Machine saves multiple versions of your system, so it’s just as easy to locate a file that you created yesterday as one from last spring. The interface makes restoring files fun; the view is like riding shotgun in the Millennium Falcon. If your entire system goes down, the information on the external drive can easily be ported to a new Mac at startup. Everything from your computer (applications, desktop, iTunes library) will appear just as you left it.

Inexpensive bus-powered drives, like the LaCie Porsche P'9220 USB 3.0 Mobile Hard Drive, are available in capacities of 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB, and work very well with Time Machine, helping to conserve precious desk space. If you need something a bit tougher that can withstand drops up to 6.5', LaCie's Rugged Thunderbolt Mobile HDD offers capacities of 1TB and 2TB, plus Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectivity. If you’re using a system that only has USB Type-C ports, such as the Apple 15.4" MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, look no further than LaCie's Rugged Thunderbolt / USB-C Mobile HDD, built with Thunderbolt and USB Type-C connectivity, and available in capacities of 2TB, 4TB, and 5TB. Lastly, if you require not only a fast interface, but also fast storage media, try the LaCie 500GB Rugged Thunderbolt Mobile SSD, built with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectivity.

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt Mobile HDD

Bad about plugging stuff in? Apple’s AirPort Time Capsule can be purchased with either a 2TB or 3TB server-grade hard drive to back up your Mac wirelessly. iMac in the den? MacBook in the kitchen? No problem. The unit operates as a dual band 802.11ac base station and can be configured to back up all the Macs on your network. The best part is, once you’ve set it up, you don’t have to do anything. Time Machine and Time Capsule do all the work. If you need to increase the capacity of your Time Capsule, you can even add an external hard drive through the unit’s USB 2.0 Type-A port.

Apple AirPort Time Capsule

I’m a PC and Backup was My Idea

Microsoft has gotten much better about offering back-up options through its Windows OS. First offered with Windows Vista and also available in Windows 7, 8.1, 10 Home, and 10 Pro, PC users can configure the backup of specific files or their entire system through the Backup and Restore Center. Much like Time Machine on the Mac (sans the slick Star Wars interface), you can select when and how often you’d like to save your data. All you need is a proper external drive.

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro

WD's 2TB My Passport USB 3.0 Secure Portable Hard Drive comes pre-formatted for Windows and is available in capacities of 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB, as well as black, blue, orange, red, white, and yellow. It also features bus-powered USB 3.0 micro-B connectivity and hardware encryption for extra security. WD also offers its My Passport Ultra Metal Edition in capacities of 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB, plus colors of blue/black or silver. It is also pre-formatted for Windows, utilizes USB 3.0 micro-B connectivity, and 256-bit encryption.

WD My Passport Ultra Metal Edition

Drive Enclosures and Drive Docks

Another worthy option, for Windows and Mac, is the Seagate 2TB Mobile SATA III 2.5" Internal HDD. This 2.5" drive has a 7mm form factor and if you’re feeling adventurous, it can replace your system’s primary drive, or be installed in an available spare drive bay. If you’d rather not crack open your system, it can also be used externally in one of two ways. The first is to purchase an external enclosure, such as the OWC Express 2.5" Portable USB 3.0 Enclosure Kit, AkiTio Neutrino U3 Portable Hard Drive Enclosure, or G-Technology G-DRIVE ev ATC Enclosure with Thunderbolt. The second option is to use an external hard drive dock which, while not as small and portable as a drive enclosure, is typically more feature-rich and able to accommodate 2.5 and 3.5" drives. OWC's Drive Dock Thunderbolt 2/USB 3.0 Dual Drive Bay Solution features dual Thunderbolt 2 ports and one USB 3.0 Type-B port, while its Drive Dock USB 3.0 Dual Drive Bay Solution uses one USB 3.0 Type-B port. NewerTech makes the Voyager S3 USB 3.0 Dock for 2.5"/3.5" SATA I/II/III HDDs, and if you require legacy compatibility, the Voyager Q Quad Interface Dock provides eSATA, FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and USB 3.0 Type-B compatibility.

NewerTech Voyager Q Quad Interface Dock

Going Wireless

If you want to take advantage of wireless connectivity, but don’t want to use Apple’s AirPort or Time Capsule, WD presents several viable options. The My Passport Wireless Pro USB 3.0 External Hard Drive comes in capacities of 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB, is formatted as exFAT, and features 802.11ac Wi-Fi, allowing you to access its content wirelessly, as well as having an SD card slot for downloading digital media, a USB 3.0 port, and a USB 2.0 port, both of which can be used to connect external media for additional wireless sharing. It is powered by a battery that lasts for up to 10 hours and can also be used as a hotspot to share Internet connectivity with other devices. Also notable in this area is the WD 1TB My Passport Wireless, which has a battery life of six hours and only one USB 3.0 port.

WD My Passport Wireless

Big Files and Projects

Most pros and advanced creative types edit rich media content from an external drive or series of drives. This is a smart way to work. The hard disk in the computer manages the OS and editing software, and the externals handle media content, project files, and render files. We’ve already talked about ways to back up your system. What about all that the rich media stuff?

Large corporations and production studios employ sophisticated and expensive networks of RAID systems. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. When a computer connects to a RAID, it sees the array of hard drives as a single disk. There’s a lot of technical behind-the-scenes stuff going on here, but RAID is essentially a bunch of hard drives working together to increase efficiency and reliability. Depending on how your RAID is configured, you can sustain up to two drive failures without losing any data, and the failed drives are simply replaced. After a rebuild, everything continues to operate as usual.

Corporate-class RAID is a rather complicated and pricey proposition, but there are several simplified, low-cost systems on the market. If you need a RAID with legacy connectivity, the Glyph Technologies StudioRAID 2-Bay USB 3.0 RAID Array is compatible with Windows and Mac, and is available in capacities of 2TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 10TB, 12TB, and 16TB. It is armed with USB 3.0, FireWire800, and eSATA connectivity to provide your system with RAID 0, 1, JBOD, and SPAN modes. The StudioRAID4 4-Bay USB 3.0 RAID Array allows users to choose from capacities of 4TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB or 32TB, features the same connectivity options, and offers RAID 0, 1, 3, 5, 10, and JBOD. If you need something more portable, Glyph Technologies also makes the StudioRAID mini 2-Bay USB 3.0 RAID Array, which is equipped with 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB hard drives, or 512GB or 2TB SSDs. The StudioRAID mini retains the same connectivity options, but only supports RAID 0 and 1.

Glyph Technologies 4-Bay RAID Array

If you’re using Thunderbolt 2 connectivity and require more drive bays and processing power, the Areca ARC-8050T2 8-Bay Thunderbolt 2 RAID Enclosure has dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, an 800 MHz Dual Core CPU, 1GB of RAM, eight 2.5/3.5" drive bays, and support for RAID 0, 1, 1E, 3, 5, 6, 10, 30, 50, and 60, and is compatible with Windows and Mac.

Areca 8-Bay RAID Enclosure

For the ultimate in storage and speed, the LaCie 12big 12-Bay Thunderbolt 3 RAID Array takes advantage of the 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 bus and is available in capacities of 48TB, 72TB, 96TB, and 120TB. It supports hardware RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, and 50, and can also be used with native 10 Gb/s USB 3.1 Type-C, or as USB Type-A via an included cable. If twelve 3.5" SATA drive bays are too much, but you still require Thunderbolt 3, LaCie also makes the 6big 6-Bay Thunderbolt 3 RAID Array. It features the same connectivity and RAID support, but only six 3.5" SATA drive bays that come pre-configured as 24TB, 36TB, 48TB, or 60TB.

LaCie 6-Bay RAID Array

If you’re looking for a less traditional RAID, you may want to investigate the Drobo 5D for Thunderbolt connectivity, the Drobo 5Dt for Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, Drobo 5C for USB 3.0 Type-C connectivity, and for network connectivity, the Drobo 5N. You’ll need to bring your own 3.5" SATA hard drives to the party, but this is a good thing. Unlike traditional RAID housings, Drobo doesn’t require all the hard drives to be the same brand, capacity, or speed. You’ll need at least two hard disks to get started. From there, you can expand as needed by replacing the smallest capacity drive with a larger one.

Safeguard Your Backup

Now that we’ve discussed how to back up your digital life, it’s worth mentioning that you may want to take steps to safeguard your backup. I’m not talking about creating a second 1:1 copy of your data, but merely ensuring that the backup process is able to successfully finish. One factor that can lead to data loss is sudden power outages, and nothing is worse than losing power while performing a backup. Not only will the backup job immediately stop, but if the odds are truly stacked against you, an improper shutdown could corrupt your original data and even your backup drive. To this end, it’s worth looking at four UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) units from APC—the Back-UPS Pro BX850M, BX1000M, BX1350M, and BX1500M. Each of these will provide several NEMA5-15R battery backup and surge outlets that will allow your electronics stay on long enough so they may be properly shut down in the event of a power outage, and the higher the power output, the longer your peripherals will remain powered on. These units also protect against power surges and spikes, feature Automatic Voltage Regulation, and 1Gb dataline protection for communications.


Drobo 5N 5-Bay NAS Storage Array

Summing Up the Backup

Hard drive failure is never a question of if. It’s a matter of when. Your digital life is your life. Protect it. With integrated back-up features available in most modern operating systems and the relatively low cost of external hard drives and RAID units, there’s really no excuse not to care for your precious data. If you make one technology resolution this spring, make it to back up.

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