Backup Media - Make Your Data Impervious To Crashes

The old adage, “always be prepared” is a philosophy that can be invaluable in computing.
In particular, you can apply the scout motto by backing up your data onto an easily accessible copy that won’t be affected by a hard drive or system crash, such as CD, DVD, USB flash drive, external hard drive, or NAS (network-attached storage) device. You have a lot of options for external storage media, and each type offers advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we’ll examine the different types of external storage available and help you determine what works best for you.

When you consider the affordability and ease of use that CDs and DVDs offer, it’s plain to see why discs are still an attractive option for data backup. CDs are commonly available in 650MB and 700MB storage capacities, while DVDs are offered in single-layer (4.7GB) and dual-layer (8.5GB) sizes. You’d need 13 CDs to match the storage capacity of one dual-layer DVD and seven CDs to equal the capacity of a single-layer DVD. In addition to having different storage capacities, CDs and DVDs are sold as write-once (labeled as +R or -R, such as DVD-R) or rewriteable discs (labeled as +RW or -RW, such as CD+RW). Rewriteable discs cost more than write once discs, and the rewriteable media typically has a life span of around 1,000 rewrites. In terms of blank CD pricing, you can expect to pay around 20 to 40 cents per write-once CD and 40 to 60 cents per rewriteable CD. Single-layer, DVD+ or -R media runs between 30 to 50 cents apiece, while dual-layer and rewriteable DVDs generally cost about $1 to $2 per disc.

Most current DVD and CD burners support both the +R/RW and -R/RW formats, but before you purchase discs, make certain your optical drive supports the media type you want to use. Your optical drive might list the compatible formats on the drive’s face plate, but you can also reference the drive’s users manual or the manufacturer’s Web site to locate the supported formats. When you want to give photos or music to a friend, discs are the ideal format. Another plus is that you can clearly label discs so that it’s easy to find the most recent copies when trying to restore data. For labeling, you can use a fine-point permanent marker or print out your own labels using ones specifically designed for discs. And if you have a LightScribecapable optical drive and compatible discs, you can turn the disc over and have your PC burn graphics and text directly onto the disc’s top surface.

On the downside, the limited storage capacity of discs—compared to the storage capacity offered by external hard drives—means that you’d probably need to use a large number of discs to back up all of your data. Although you could use rewriteable discs to keep costs low, you’d need to switch the discs during the backup process. With an external hard drive or NAS device, you’d only need to start the transfer process. Another knock on CDs and DVDs is that the media can be easily scratched or dented, so you’ll need to be careful with discs that contain essential archives. Ideally, you’ll want to store any discs with critical data inside jewel cases or other protective storage.

USB Flash Drives
When it comes to portability in storage, nothing beats a USB flash drive. Unlike most external hard drives, you can carry a USB flash drive in a pants or T-shirt pocket, and in contrast to a DVD or CD, you don’t need an optical drive and a disc-burning application to copy your files. Windows Vista and Windows XP provide native support for the USB interface, and, assuming the PC has a USB port, you can insert your USB flash drive, transfer the files you want, and be on your way. USB flash drives use technology that has no moving parts, so you can leave the drive on a key chain or store it in your gym bag and not worry about ruining your portable storage device. Although USB flash drives offer a limited storage capacity—from 256MB to 32GB—the media isn’t really meant for moving large files or long-term storage. However, a USB flash drive can be useful when you need to transport a small amount of files back and forth to another PC, such as a work computer, that serves to back up your data. A variety of USB flash drive storage capacities are available, but, generally, you can expect to pay $8 to $10 per gigabyte. If the security of your data is important, consider a flash drive with integrated file encryption, such as Kingston’s Data- Traveler Secure (price varies by capacity; with 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) hardware-based encryption.

External Hard Drives
Whether your PC is primarily used for surfing the Web or storing a large music collection, it’s likely that your hard drive contains more data than you can fit onto a single DVD. The large capacity of external hard drives, ranging from 100GB up to 1TB (terabyte), means that it’s more likely you can back up all your data onto a single storage device. Depending on the power requirements for the external hard drive, it may require AC power to operate. Many portable drives with a capacity less than 500GB can be powered solely by your PC’s USB connection. For instance, Western Digital’s 500GB My Passport Essential ($199.99; is powered via USB, but because some computers may limit the power to USB ports, Western Digital also includes a second USB power port on the drive. Besides storage capacity, you’ll also want to consider the type of connection, such as USB, FireWire, and eSATA (external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment), that the external hard drive uses to transfer data. Nearly all PCs now feature multiple USB ports, but many computers don’t include a FireWire or eSATA port. If transfer speed is important and your computer offers an eSATA port, you can purchase an eSATA model and copy data at speeds near the rate of your internal hard drive. Currently, the eSATA interface is more common on larger desktop drives, such as Seagate’s FreeAgent XTreme series of external hard drives ($159.99 to $279.99; If speed isn’t a necessity, there are a variety of external hard drives that utilize USB and/or FireWire connections. Like USB flash drives, many external hard drives bundle features that enhance the drive’s functionality, such as data encryption and automatic file backup tools. For instance, the Prestige Portable Hard Drive line (pricing varies by storage capacity; from Iomega includes EMC’s Retrospect Express backup and recovery software and MozyHome online backup service, so you don’t need to purchase additional software to perform automatic backups. Another manufacturer that includes backup software with the hard drive is Clickfree ( With a Clickfree drive, available in 120GB ($99.99) and
160GB ($119.99) capacities, you only need to connect the drive to your PC’s USB port to begin the backup process. After the initial backup, a Clickfree drive will only update the files that have changed to expedite your file backups. External hard drives work great for backing up the entire contents of your PC, because the drives are available in storage capacities similar to or greater than your PC’s internal hard drive. Most external hard drives also offer a portable design, so you can take the drive to a relative or friend’s house and copy all of your photos or movies onto their PC. If you don’t already have an application to automatically back up your PC, consider investing in a model that offers a backup tool to save yourself a shopping trip.

Network-Attached Storage
If you have a home network, you have the ability to share an Internet connection, files, and other peripherals, such as a printer. NAS is a small unit with a hard drive (or multiple hard drives) and a network adapter, so you can share the storage with all the computers on your home network. Besides acting as a central repository for the files you want to share, the various computers on your home network can automatically back up data to the NAS device. For instance, the LinkStation EZ LS-CL (prices vary by capacity; includes Buffalo’s Navigator software to instruct you how to set up the NAS on your home network, and it includes a free 30-day trial of Memeo Auto- Backup software. In terms of storage capacity, most NAS devices are offered in 500GB, 1TB, and 1.5TB sizes. Alternatively, if you have an extra hard drive or two lying around, you can purchase an NAS enclosure, such as the MobileNAS MN2L ($240; www.sans from Sans Digital, and install your hard drives into the NAS. For example, the MobileNAS MN2L features two bays for SATA hard drives, and it offers a maximum capacity of 2TB. Many NAS enclosures, including the MobileNAS MN2L, allow you to set up the drives in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configuration. The MobileNAS MN2L supports RAID 0 (increases performance) or RAID 1 (creates a redundant copy of your data to protect your data if one drive fails). NAS is ideal for those who have multiple computers connected to a home network. Once you set up the NAS device, it requires little effort to maintain and operate. After connecting it to your network via Ethernet cable, you’ll only need to map the network drive on your PCs or use the software included with your NAS to set up the network share for each PC. In comparison to the other external storage methods we have covered, the primary downside to NAS devices is that you can’t easily transport and use the storage. However, we should note that some NAS devices offer an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) feature, so you can remotely upload and exchange files over the Web.

Time To Archive
Once you’ve chosen a storage medium that works best for you, don’t forget to regularly back up your data. With the addition of helpful software, you can easily ensure that your data archives are always up-to-date.

Source of Information : Smart Computing / January 2009

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