As an artistic and very creative physician (see my YouTube channel and subscribe), I almost had a complete meltdown last week when I thought my large backup storage drive failed. Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a camera attached to me. Ever since I was a kid. Always. I’ve been using cameras since I could walk and have created tons of very impressive photos and videos. Hence, archiving my pictures and videos, especially of family activities is crucial. Enter the near miss! (my best photos are on my Instagram, please follow)
I had just installed a new video card and noticed that my internal 1 terabyte hard drive had stopped working. I was devastated. I used that drive to temporarily store photos and videos on it that I was still editing. It had all of my 2016 media on it. I thought I had lost an entire year’s worth of work. I knew better, these old brick hard drives rarely failed, so I knew what I was going to do next. I took it out and tried different things, it turns out the connector was bad. So, I purchased a SATA to USB adapter and took my drive out, connected it to an external USB drive and copied all the info to my 2 external G-Tech 8 terabyte drive. All of 2016 was saved!
As soon as that catastrophe was averted, I noticed that my external G-Tech 8 terabyte drive stopped working. Not even a few days later. It had about 3 tb worth of photos and videos stored. This was my main archive. Like all of our family pictures. Ever. I really freaked out now. I tried different connectors, different plugs. Nothing. I was distraught. Of course, I didn’t panic and no one really knew that I was worried. I never get that excited.
Having been a computer repairman and having built custom computers my entire life, I decided to take it apart and pull out the drives. I knew this would void my warranty, but I had to do it. I pulled out the two 4 terabyte drives and plugged them into my new SATA to USB adapter and neither of them showed up. Because the G-Tech unit they were housed in uses some proprietary formatting, the computer couldn’t read them. So, I took apart the proprietary G-Tech unit, found the motherboard and microchips, cleaned off the contacts, made sure everything was grounded and put it all back together. I plugged it in and….. IT WORKED! So much relief. But there was still plenty of work to do. I knew it was only a matter of time before it failed completely.
I was pretty happy, all of my stuff was there. But I was also pretty determined to not let that ever happen again. So, I went into full research mode. I needed to find a solution that backed up my data here locally and to a cloud. I can’t have all our pictures and videos disappear again. Just the thought of that upsets my stomach. I researched every possible solution there was to storage. Being a scientist and needing to see research and evidence, I knew I would find the correct solution for me (and probably many of you).
DAS or NAS
There are two kinds of large volume storage solutions. Direct Attached Storage or Network Attached Storage. They are very different from one another and I had to choose which solution would work best for me.
Network attached storage attaches to your modem via an Ethernet line. It basically connects to the internet. You use browsers, websites and apps to connect to your storage. It’s not a direct connection. You have to connect to the internet and store things on it. Because a NAS is connected through the internet, read and write speeds are very slow. Even if you have the fastest home internet service, it would take days (maybe weeks) to back up a few terabytes of data. Also to access that data and download it back to your computer would take days. But it’s great for archiving data that you won’t use on a daily basis. They also allow you to access your data from anywhere. You have an app, and you can view or stream your videos anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection. Similar to how Google Drive or Google Photos works. This was going to be way too slow for me since I frequently edit very large photo and videos files.
Direct attached storage is connected to your computer by a very fast USB connection and basically serves as a giant external hard drive, but with some fancy features. The transfer speeds are incredibly fast using USB 3 or Thunderbolt connectors. They can also back up to a cloud service if you set them up to do so. For me, as someone who edits videos and photos, the faster transfer speed was very important for me. I want to quickly be able to import my files, work on them, and send them back to storage. In fact, the DAS I selected is pretty fast and you can work on your files without transferring them back and forth. Which is very convenient. It’s probably the fastest DAS available.
Enter the Drobo
The DAS I selected is the Drobo 5Dt which can store up to 64 terabytes (and soon more) depending on how many hard drives you decide to put in it. It uses a proprietary software called BeyondRAID to duplicate and back up your files to itself in a safe way. You data will always exist and can never be lost. It can hold up to 5 drives. But you need at least 2 to get started. One serves as your main drive, while the other is the back up. As you add more drives, it rearranges itself to give you even more storage space. If you take out a smaller drive and add a bigger one, it’ll rebuild your storage capacity to use the new extra space. It also has a battery back up in case you lose power, you won’t lose any data. And it’s infinitely expandable!
Drobo comes with a dashboard that allows you to adjust system settings, redundancy, and check on the health of the installed drives. I currently have two 8 terabyte drives installed. One serves as the redundant drive, the other is the usable space. I was able to transfer 3 terabytes of data to the new drive in a matter of about 4 hours. If I had a NAS, this would take 2-5 days or more. The Drobo drive just shows up under my computer as drive E: in Windows (works similarly on MAC too). It functions like a normal drive. You can create folders, cut and paste, move items, etc.
Why traditional RAIDs won’t work
If you are computer savvy, you may have heard of RAID setups where a group of drives in your computer function as a single large storage drive with multiple redundancy options. It’s been around since the 1980s. But it’s cumbersome and has limitations. For example, if I had two 8 terabyte drives that I set up in a traditional RAID, I would have to completely back up the data off those drives to another set of drives, if I wanted to add capacity or remove capacity from the RAID. That’s very cumbersome and impractical. Transfer all the data to another 8 terabyte system, over a slow connection, which may take days, add more drives, reformat everything, and copy the data back. Only to have to do it again next year when I need even more capacity. This is just ridiculous. It may work for some enterprises where money is no object and having multiple redundant storage solutions is always an option. But for a home user, it’s not cost effective. I don’t have access to multiple other storage drives to copy things back and forth to when I am adding capacity.
So the Drobo BeyondRAID system is much better. As soon as you plug your Drobo into your computer and download the Drobo desktop software, it automatically formats your Drobo to the maximum possible space you could ever install. So, the 5 bay Drobo that I have, can max out at 64 terabytes (maybe more soon), hence, I have 64 tb available, if I ever expand to that amount. Currently, I have 2 drives in two of the bays. Each drive is 8 terabytes, hence, it shows that I have a total capacity of about 7.9 tb to use, the other being used in it’s own internal system for back up. Pretty neat. If I want more space, I just slide in new drives. The front cover comes off easily, since it is attached via magnets, and I can slide in drives without worrying about wires or cables. You just slide them in and Drobo makes them available pretty quickly.
Back up to your favorite cloud
Then, by installing ODrive, you can back up to any cloud service you want and it encrypts everything for you. I’ll discuss ODrive in a separate post, this has gotten so long.
Hopefully, this will save you lots of heartache and save your pictures and videos!