I started up TweetDeck this morning to find that Mitch Haile (@bwahacker), Dennis Klein (@klein2), and Stefan Didak (@stefandidak), three hard-core home-office builders, were deep in a discussion of backups. To provide a little back story, there’s some dispute as to whether Mitch or Stefan has the most famous home office on the web. Dennis probably has the office with the highest frequency of equipment rotation. Right now, Mitch and Dennis are both Mac users, and Stefan has started doing some development on the Mac as a side project, which is how the discussion got started.
But then, suddenly, things stopped being theoretical. Dennis lost a hard drive.
Stefan and Mitch both advise Dennis to start keeping spare drives to use as replacements in his RAID arrays. If you remember last week’s column, I removed a drive from my RAID array and duplicated it using the StarTech SATA dock, but in fact the whole point of RAID is to automatically copy the data onto the new disk when you put it into the array. (And while the StarTech dock did duplicate my RAID disk perfectly, there was no way to read that disk from within the dock, because it was formatted only to work with a RAID controller.)
Note the huge numbers of drives you have if you do extreme software development. Dennis mentions 15 and Stefan 50. If Mitch keeps 6 spares and goes by the same rule Stefan uses, then he probably has about 60 hard drives.
The screen capture doesn’t show quite the whole conversation (it got a little confused trying to display it with the earliest posts at the top), but Stefan says the idea is that you send the dead drive back for warranty replacement, then use that one as your spare when it comes in. This assumes the drive is still in warranty when it dies, of course.
Ordinary people who only have a few drives (the one inside the computer and an external drive or two) might not keep spares around, but it’s not such a bad idea if you have replaceable drives. Note that your replacements have to be the same brand as the originals. This could be tricky if you’re talking about something like internal drives for a laptop or external drives that come pre-packaged in a case you can’t open, but if you’re using something like the Buffalo Quattro I have or the Drobo Pro Mitch mentions, it will work just fine.
And you can buy a second external drive and keep it in the box to use in case the first one breaks. The main causes of drive failure come with use, so as long as you’re not storing the unopened box in a hot, humid place, you’re probably okay.
On the other hand, if you live close to a Best Buy or Office Depot, you can probably get a replacement for your external drive easily enough. What you probably can’t get at a consumer-oriented store like that is a high-performance internal drive. Once you become a power user, you have to start shopping somewhere else, and you don’t want to have to wait weeks for that special order to come in before you can start using your equipment again.