TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Data Overflow: What's Your Back-up Plan?

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Hardware

Data Overflow: What's Your Back-up Plan?

Why you must protect an ever-increasing volume of valuable data

by Mike Cobb

Introduction

Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway and thought, "Gee, they really ought to widen this road and add a couple of lanes to handle all this traffic?" Except, you know what would happen. Those lanes would fill up with cars in no time and you'd be stuck again. Or, as someone said, "Nature abhors a vacuum."

That's sort of how it is with today's hard drives. As manufacturers have been able to create more and more digital capacity in less and less physical space, users-Mac users in particular-have eagerly poured in more and more data to fill that extra space, often right to the limit.

The problem is that it takes longer to back up these expanding data sets. Many individuals don't bother, and many companies don't budget adequately for the right tools to keep up with the volume.

Meanwhile, the drives themselves have become more intricate, with smaller components and tighter tolerances. So the risk of failure is increased. Drive failure has been a fact of life since the first computers, but with the capacity of today's machines and the propensity of users to use it all, the sheer volume of data at risk today is staggering.

Whether you edit home movies on your laptop for fun or manage a room full of servers for business, it's time for a back-up plan.

A data salvager's perspective

As a Director of Engineering at DriveSavers, I'm responsible for overseeing the data recovery process for Mac and Unix systems, which includes everything from iPods to Xserve RAID. We deal with the challenge of data overflow every day from both the end-user and the enterprise level.

When you've been doing this for a few years-13 in my case-you get an interesting perspective on how much data volume has grown. A typical data recovery job in 1994 involved a hard drive with storage capacity in the 20-40 megabyte range. For the recovery process, we used 240 MB hard drives to hold the data we recovered and the average file count, including all the OS files as well as the user's data, was around 25,000 files per recovery. And in those days, floppy discs were the primary back-up medium and the media DriveSavers used to send customers their recovered data.

Today the average recovery for a Mac is 60 gigabytes and the average number of files is 160,000. Only 25% of the recoveries can go on CDs or DVDs. Most are sent back in new internal or external hard drives because of the large data sets and file sizes. In fact, a lot of our customers have files that are bigger than the 8-gig capacity of a dual-layer DVD. External drives-not CDs or DVDs-have become today's floppies.

Of course, the Mac world is different from the PC world, as you might expect. The average PC recovery is 10-15 GB, so most of those recoveries go out on DVDs. On the Mac side we work for a lot of creative professionals like photographers, filmmakers and audio engineers who are creating huge files with applications like ProTools and FinalCutPro. It sounds like a cliche straight out of the "Mac vs. PC" commercials, but it's true. Mac and PC users have one thing in common, however-they keep all their email and e-mail attachments forever.

Drive failure happens. Here's why.

So how do all these cluttered drives end up in our shop? Drive failure is inevitable, and its causes are many. A few are extreme. We have recovered data from computers that have been dropped, run over, burned, drowned and shot. But those "disk-asters", as we call them, are the exception. The everyday causes of drive failure are more mundane, breakdowns in the inner workings of the drives themselves, brought on by the very complexity that makes them so powerful.

Many drives come out of the factory with some kind of defect that will eventually surface. The average service life of a drive these days is 3-5 years. Drive manufacturers claim the failure rate is about 1% of all drives in use per year, but some independent estimates put it as high as 4% and even up to 13%.

Just as it can't be avoided, neither can it be predicted. There have been various efforts at "smart" failure prediction, but a majority of drive failures happen immediately, like bad accidents, without warning. When the drive heads suddenly decide they're going to crash into a spinning platter, no one can see it coming.

Simple electrical failure caused by a few inherently bad sectors used to be the primary cause of failure. Nowadays, we see less electrical failure and more physical media damage resulting from the tight packing of ever-shrinking, fast-moving mechanical parts, especially the head-to-platter surface interface.

Power surges are a common cause, too. They're especially bad for the users who are conscientious about backing up, because their back-up drives are usually plugged into the same power source as their main ones.

Here's one that surprises people: hard drives are sensitive to altitude. They have a higher rate of failure over 10,000 feet, even in pressurized airplane cabins where every other person seems to have a laptop or an iPod. In a depressurized environment, like a mountaintop in the Andes, they simply won't function over 10,000 feet.

User error is a less common cause of failure, but it certainly happens. It might be as simple as unplugging a Firewire or USB drive without first "ejecting" it. You might even get away with it nine times and get lulled into thinking nothing's going to happen-until the tenth.

At the enterprise level, we repeatedly hear from IT managers who thought that, in a RAID server, back-up was "built in"-if one drive failed, another would take over-never anticipating that a second drive failure would crash the entire system. In fact, when one drive fails the remaining drives start working overtime, running faster and hotter than normal, increasing the risk of complete failure.

IT support people often call DriveSavers, too, after they've done a reinstall on a desktop system to try to eradicate some kind of corruption, only to find there were some crucial documents that the user didn't back up to the server.

People ask us how they can prevent their disks from failing. The short answer is you can't. It's not a question of if, but when. The more pertinent question, though, is, how can you prevent your data from being lost, or avoid going through the downtime and costs that a recovery entails? Based on my experiences, there's only one answer.

Back up. Back up. And back up some more.

Being told you need to back up regularly is kind of like having the dentist tell you that you need to floss. You know it's true. You vow to be better about it. You have the means and every intention. But you forget, or you put it off. And next thing you know, you're getting a root canal.

Cost used to be an impediment. After paying for a computer, who really wanted to shell out the money for an extra hard drive? But external drives are comparatively cheap now. We see more and more of them coming in for data recovery. The reason? Users are buying external drives for back-up, and then they wind up using them for data overflow. So, the data on their external drives is just as much at risk as that on their computers. The only data that is not at risk is data that has been backed up.

So, what's the best back-up system for the heavy hobbyist or small creative business? The answer is the one you're most likely to use-if it encourages you to back up instead of discouraging you, it's right for you. If you have large files of photos, movies, music and the like, CDs or DVDs are simply not a practical option. The handling and storage of them is also a bit cumbersome. Tape back-up was once the standard in business, but nowadays it's costly and slow compared to other options and does not give you the flexibility to restore on other systems. Firewire or USB external drives are the way to go-provided you're not tempted to use that extra capacity for your data overflow. If that's inevitable, you need to buy another drive. If you can't be bothered to remember to back up on a regular basis, there are programs you can buy to schedule automatic backups.

Of course, in a creative business, you probably have very large data sets and a large number of files, possibly more than you can back up in one night. And if your back-up time cuts into your work time, that translates to downtime. One solution is to upgrade your network to gigabit. It's ten times faster than 100 Base-T Ethernet-currently the standard in many businesses-and you can transfer as much as two gigs per minute (vs. 200 Mb.)

Strategies for the RAID Environment

The issue is trickier for enterprise IT departments that measure their volume in terabytes rather than gigabytes, because it comes down to the fundamental business tradeoffs of time and money. If you have a RAID 1 mirror or RAID 5 striped with distributed parity, you're off to a good start. But if there's corruption on any of the drives, it will be mirrored as well. You still need a backup. Tape can take days to back up a high volume of data. Now, you can get external drives capable of holding up to 2 terabytes, allowing you to back up to multiple drives and restore the data to any Mac-an advantage that tape doesn't give you.

Do you need to back up your entire system every time you back up? One strategy to consider is incremental back-ups. Start with a full system back-up, and then back up only the data that has been changed in succeeding intervals. You'll still need to do full back-ups regularly, and you'll need to determine the schedule based on the amount of your data and the nature of your business-for instance, incremental back-ups nightly and full back-ups on the weekends.

The real killer in the movement of data is not always the amount of data in gigabytes or terabytes, but the file count. Is there a way to consolidate multiple files (directories, for example) into a single file? Fewer, larger files will be easier and faster to back up and restore than more, smaller files, even if the total volume of data is the same.

Of course, all the backup planning in the world is for naught if you don't also have a plan and the means for restoring the data. That means having yet another server dedicated to restoration. It's advisable if not imperative to do an occasional practice restore on another computer-obviously you can't restore to one that's failed. It doesn't have to be the identical computer, just one that's sufficiently robust to handle the data.

Managing the movement and storage of data is a secondary if not even a more distant priority at most companies relative to their primary business, which is why IT departments have to keep cajoling management on the importance of having adequate backup resources-and the cost of downtime. At our company, handling data is the main thing we do, so our experience may be instructive for other companies.

We didn't even have servers when I started. Now the Mac group has 40 terabytes of online fibre storage and 60 terabytes of offline disk storage using 500 GB and 750 GB SATA and PATA drives. The combined storage capacity is the equivalent of 100 million floppy discs. All of our systems are on a gigabit network, through which we push between 6 and 8 terabytes per day-almost more than the total of data permanently stored at the Library of Congress. Where it used to take us a week to back up 3 terabytes to tape and another week to restore it, we can now back up this amount of data to a server in just one day. This is over a 14-fold savings in time and resources.

Our business is all about keeping data safe, but when you think about it, it really ought to be a priority for any business.

When all else fails: data recovery

So, you vowed to be better about backing up, but you got too busy and just plain forgot. Or everything got backed up except one crucial file. Or your well-planned back-up system didn't do its job properly. Well, good news. Your chances are good, actually better than good, that the data is not really lost and that it can be restored.

At our company, the data gets imaged from theoriginal drive in the cleanroom then sent to our Mac engineers. Once we ascertain whether the damage is logical or physical, we'll determine the best strategy for an optimal recovery. We typically call our customers to find out what is most important to them and what they are hoping to have recovered. The recovered data is returned on external hard drives or DVDs, and also backed up onto our own servers. The data is held for a period of time in case the customer has any issues or questions. The length of turnaround and cost is based on the service selected (priority, standard or economy), the drive capacity, the operating system and the complexity of the recovery.

More data than ever, that matters more than ever.

As we've witnessed the increase in data volume over the years, we've also noted that it is proportional to the rise in the value of data-because so much of our work and lives now exists primarily in digital form. (Ironically, our company started out doing drive repair, until we figured out that people were more concerned with their data than the drives themselves.) Data loss can cripple businesses and send everyday users to the edge of despair.

With today's data recovery capabilities, despair is unwarranted in the vast majority of cases. However, the best recovery plan is the user's own. Think about what that growing volume of data is really worth to you and figure out how to safeguard it before it overflows. Hard drive failure may be unavoidable, but with the right tools, strategies mindset, you can avoid losing what really matters.


Mike Cobb is the Director of Macintosh and Unix Engineering at DriveSavers, a data recovery services company. He joined the company in 1994, and has performed recoveries on all types of hard drives. Before joining DriveSavers, he worked as a tech support supervisor and beta-test coordinator for a manufacturer of Mac-based RAID mirroring hardware and software, among other products.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Tidy Up 5.3.7 - Find duplicate files and...
Tidy Up is a full-featured duplicate finder and disk-tidiness utility. Features: Supports Lightroom: it is now possible to search and collect duplicates directly in the Lightroom library. Multiple... Read more
Pinegrow 5.97 - Mockup and design web pa...
Pinegrow (was Pinegrow Web Designer) is desktop app that lets you mockup and design webpages faster with multi-page editing, CSS and LESS styling, and smart components for Bootstrap, Foundation,... Read more
BlueStacks 4.210.0 - Run Android applica...
BlueStacks App Player lets you run your Android apps fast and fullscreen on your Mac. Feature comparison chart How to install Bluestacks on your Mac Go to MacUpdate and click the green "Download"... Read more
WhatsApp 2.2027.10 - Desktop client for...
WhatsApp is the desktop client for WhatsApp Messenger, a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for... Read more
Art Text 4.0.1 - $29.99
Art Text is graphic design software specifically tuned for lettering, typography, text mockups and various artistic text effects. Supplied with a great variety of ready to use styles and materials,... Read more
Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2020 20.2 - Build w...
Dreamweaver CC 2020 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $20.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Dreamweaver customer). Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2020 allows you to... Read more
Adobe Acrobat DC 20.009.20074 - Powerful...
Acrobat DC is available only as a part of Adobe Creative Cloud, and can only be installed and/or updated through Adobe's Creative Cloud app. Adobe Acrobat DC with Adobe Document Cloud services is... Read more
beaTunes 5.2.10 - Organize your music co...
beaTunes is a full-featured music player and organizational tool for music collections. How well organized is your music library? Are your artists always spelled the same way? Any R.E.M. vs REM?... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 8.1.5 - Catalog your di...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast Finder-like intuitive look and feel Super-fast search algorithm Can compress catalog data for... Read more
Meteorologist 3.4.1 - Popular weather ap...
Meteorologist is a simple interface to weather provided by weather.com. It provides the ability to show the weather in the main menu bar, displaying more detail in a pop-up menu, whose contents are... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Steam Link Spotlight - Disco Elysium
Steam Link Spotlight is a feature where we look at PC games that play exceptionally well using the Steam Link app. Our last entry was Signs of the Sojourner Read about how it plays using Steam Link over here. | Read more »
Distract Yourself With These Great Mobil...
There’s a lot going on right now, and I don’t really feel like trying to write some kind of pithy intro for it. All I’ll say is lots of people have been coming together and helping each other in small ways, and I’m choosing to focus on that as I... | Read more »
Pokemon Go's July Community Day wil...
Pokemon Go developers have announced the details concerning the upcoming Gastly Community Day. This particular event was selected by the players of the game after the Gas Pokemon came in second place after a poll that decided which Pokemon would... | Read more »
Clash Royale: The Road to Legendary Aren...
Supercell recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and their best title, Clash Royale, is as good as it's ever been. Even for lapsed players, returning to the game is as easy as can be. If you want to join us in picking the game back up, we've put... | Read more »
Detective Di is a point-and-click murder...
Detective Di is a point-and-click murder mystery set in Tang Dynasty-era China. You'll take on the role of China's best-known investigator, Di Renjie, as he solves a series of grisly murders that will ultimately lead him on a collision course with... | Read more »
Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is se...
Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia, one of Square Enix's many popular mobile RPGs, has announced a plethora of in-game events that are set to take place over the summer. This will include several rewards, Free Multi Draws and more. [Read more] | Read more »
Sphaze is a neat-looking puzzler where y...
Sphaze is a neat-looking puzzler where you'll work to guide robots through increasingly elaborate mazes. It's set in a visually distinct world that's equal parts fantasy and sci-fi, and it's finally launched today for iOS and Android devices. [... | Read more »
Apple Arcade is in trouble
Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Apple is disappointed in the performance of Apple Arcade and will be shifting their approach to the service by focusing on games that can retain subscribers and canceling other upcoming releases that don't fit... | Read more »
Pixel Petz, an inventive platform for de...
Pixel Petz has built up a sizeable player base thanks to its layered, easy-to-understand creative tools and friendly social experience. It revolves around designing, trading, and playing with a unique collection of pixel art pets, and it's out now... | Read more »
The King of Fighters Allstar's late...
The King of Fighters ALLSTAR, Netmarble's popular action RPG, has once again been updated with a plethora of new content. This includes battle cards, events and 21 new fighters, which increases the already sizeable roster even more. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Clearance 2019 13″ 2.4GHz/256GB MacBook Pro o...
B&H Photo has dropped their price on the clearance 2019 13″ 2.4GHz/256GB Quad-Core Silver MacBook Pro by $500 off Apple’s original MSRP to a new low of only $1299. Expedited shipping is free to... Read more
$219 Apple AirPods Pro are back at Verizon, s...
Verizon has Apple AirPods Pro on sale again for a limited time for $219.99 on their online store. Their price is $30 off Apple’s MSRP, and it’s the lowest price we’ve seen for AirPods Pro. Available... Read more
Apple’s $779 13″ MacBook Air deal returns to...
Apple has clearance, Certified Refurbished, 2019 13″ MacBook Airs available again starting at $779. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a standard Apple one-year warranty, and is... Read more
$200 13″ MacBook Pro discounts are back at Am...
Amazon has 2020 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pros on sale again today for $150-$200 off Apple’s MSRP. Shipping is free. Be sure to purchase the MacBook Pro from Amazon, rather than a third-party seller, and... Read more
Deal Alert! Apple AirPods with Wireless Charg...
Sams Club has Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case on sale on their online store for only $149.98 from July 6, 2020 to July 9, 2020. Their price is $50 off Apple’s MSRP, and it’s the lowest... Read more
Xfinity Mobile promo: Apple iPhone XS models...
Take $300 off the purchase of any Apple iPhone XS model at Xfinity Mobile while supplies last. Service plan required: – 64GB iPhone XS: $599.99 save $300 – 256GB iPhone XS: $749.99 save $300 – 512GB... Read more
New July 2020 promo at US Cellular: Switch an...
US Cellular has introduced a new July 2020 deal offering free 64GB Apple iPhone 11 smartphones to customers opening a new line of service. No trade-in required, and discounts are applied via monthly... Read more
Apple offers up to $400 Education discount on...
Apple has launched their Back to School promotion for 2020. They will include one free pair Apple AirPods (with charging case) with the purchase of a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, or iMac Pro (Mac... Read more
July 4th Sale: Woot offers wide range of Macs...
Amazon-owned Woot is blowing out a wide range of Apple Macs and iPads for July 4th staring at $279 and ranging up to just over $1000. Models vary from older iPads and 11″ MacBook Airs to some newer... Read more
Apple Pro Display XDR with Nano-Texture Glass...
Abt Electronics has Apple’s new 32″ Pro Display XDR model with the nano-texture glass in stock and on sale today for up to $144 off MSRP. Shipping is free: – Pro Display XDR (nano-texture glass): $... Read more

Jobs Board

Physical Therapist Assistant - *Apple* Hill...
Physical Therapist Assistant - Apple Hill Rehab - Full Time Tracking Code 62519 Job Description General Summary: Under the direct supervision of a licensed Physical Read more
Operating Room Assistant, *Apple* Hill Surg...
Operating Room Assistant, Apple Hill Surgical Center - Full Time, Day Shift, Monday - Saturday availability required Tracking Code 62363 Job Description Operating Read more
Perioperative RN - ( *Apple* Hill Surgical C...
Perioperative RN - ( Apple Hill Surgical Center) Tracking Code 60593 Job Description Monday - Friday - Full Time Days Possible Saturdays General Summary: Under the Read more
Product Manager, *Apple* Commercial Sales -...
Product Manager, Apple Commercial Sales Austin, TX, US Requisition Number:77652 As an Apple Product Manager for the Commercial Sales team at Insight, you Read more
*Apple* Mac Product Engineer - Barclays (Uni...
Apple Mac EngineerWhippany, NJ Support the development and delivery of solutions, products, and capabilities into the Barclays environment working across technical Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.