The next post in my “GotM” series brings you the Snap Server 2200. It’s not sexy, but it does its job very well. What is that job? It’s a hard disk enclosure with an ethernet port. Plug it in to your network, run a very brief install program, and you have network-attached storage for a home or small business network.
I have two of these devices and one of its older cousins. The newer ones each have two 500GB drives and the older one has dual 250GB units. Add that all up, and that’s a ton of storage for a home network. Yes, I have these at home. But I don’t use the full capacity, instead I have them configured as RAID devices.
Several years ago my wife’s computer had a hard-drive failure. Unfortunately that computer was the one with all of our financial records on it. And even more unfortunate (as I certainly know better) I had not backed up the data files on her computer in about seven months.
I was desparate enough that I sent the drive to a data recovery service, thinking that the $100 minimum fee was a bargain if I could recover the data from the disk. This service offers a “clean room” disassembly / recovery, where they remove the platters from the disk and attempt to restore them in another case. A clean room is necessary in order to avoid contaminating the disk environment. In any case, they failed to recover anything.
So, what to do? I certainly needed to make more regular backups, but that wasn’t the only answer. I needed some sort of automatic backup feature. Enter Snap, with their capability of providing inexpensive RAID solutions.
There are several implementations of RAID, two of which are supported by this device. RAID – if you didn’t know – stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks. (Wiki on RAID) RAID 0 is known as striping and is primarily used for performance. Striping is a configuration option where the drives appear to be virually “stacked” on top of one another. It increases the number of heads you have reading data simultaneously, which improves the overall performance. But I wasn’t looking for performance, I was looking for backup.
RAID 1 is known as mirroring, and that’s the configuration that I have used. (If I haven’t thrown enough acronyms at you so far, this device can also be configured as JBOD, or “just a bunch of disks”. ) A mirror actually slows down the process a bit, as everything written to one disk is then immediately written to the other disk. In that configuration the dual 500GB drives appear to be a single 500GB drive, so I have only half of the true capacity. But everything written is written twice. That’s my backup.
Since I have added these to my network I have not lost a single file due to hard-drive failure. I have had drives fail, but as long as I check the status of these appliances on a regular basis my risk is very low. On a periodic basis I copy content from one device to the other, resulting in a 4-way copy of the resulting data. This is done via a cron job on a linux server I have at my house. Yes, these drives can also be mounted on a linux box.
The best part about this gadget is that you plug it in and forget it. It just works. I have drives S, W, X, Y, and Z all mounted to various partitions on these gadgets. I have my linux server set up to connect to my web server (the one this site is hosted on, among others) and download database backups every single night, rename the files with the date, and copy them out to the “W” drive. Since backup files are small I have never bothered to delete anything, meaning I have daily backups for some of my web sites going back for many years. Do I really need that? No, of course not. But as long as I don’t run out of space, why not keep the stuff around?
A final advantage to this configuration is that since everything as far as data is stored on the network, I can upgrade my desktop or laptop at any time without having to worry about losing my data. I can also access the same files from any computer on the network. And of course the best part is that I don’t worry about losing data due to hard-drive failures.
I still make backups (not as often as I should) and store them off-site. I used to use an Iomega Jaz drive for this, then moved up to one of the first rewritable DVD drives that came out years ago. The main problem with these two options is that I have to keep a working jaz drive around to read the old media. And the rewriteable DVD is a really old model from Creative Labs that I can’t even get drivers for anymore, so I have to keep a Windows 98 system up and running to use it. Backups that are dependent on a specific hardware device are a lot less useful than simply having the data available. In fact, they might even be worse than no backups at all, since you think you have a backup but if you can’t find hardware to read it, well, you’re up that poluted stream without means of propulsion.
As long as stuff is on the network, I can access it. I like that. And it helps me sleep better at night.