Storage is Cheap

I’ve been wrestling with our home backup strategy for over a year now. A little background: We made the switch from PC to Mac in February 2008. Since then I have shed away my previous strategy of using SyncToy with an external USB hard drive, combined with a slew of 16GB thumb drives held at a top secret offsite location.

I now rely on Time Machine, working in tandem with a 1TB LaCie d2 Quadra hard drive. As hard drives go, this is a beauty. It comes with the following connections:

  • Firewire 400
  • Firewire 800
  • USB 2
  • eSATA

It also uses the aluminum chassis effectively as a heat sink, making for an fairly quiet running drive.

Most people would end it there.

I also have a 500GB LaCie USB2 drive, which has some media files and family videos (only copies). I recycled the two 250GB SATA drives from the PC, and placed them in enclosures (one of which is firewire compatible, which in hindsight should be a prerequisite moving forward). So if my count is right, I now count 4 external hard drives, two of which can be daisy chained (which is awesome! I highly recommend it if you’ve never tried it). In fact our miniDV camcorder has yet to be plugged into the MacBook Pro, it has always been tethered to a hard drive.

Back to backup strategy. To this day, all our family movies are sitting on a drive that will eventually fail. At the time of publishing, I still have yet to mirror these gigabytes of data on any other media.

I’ve been going over this issue with the other FatDads. We bounced around the idea of NAS storage in tandem with cloud storage. We also talked about using the firewire drives as scratch disks and offloading a lot of the content off the Mac.

The problem is that I like to sit on the couch and edit videos or go through Faces and Places. I don’t want to be stuck at the desk, which is why we didn’t buy a iMac.

So I come back to the drives as backup and storage.

A plan emerges


I addressed the issue of automating the backup by leveraging the cloud. I signed up for a Carbonite account. This will ensure that all my data in the users folders is backed up. The only gap is the iPhoto folder. This is currently sitting on a 30GB sparse disk file partition. I could have Carbonite back it up, but adding a single photo would change the sparse file, and would most likely cause a complete 30GB update to the cloud.

Next step, order a four bay Drobo DR04DD10. I am buying two 1.5TB drives and will retask the two 250GB drives. This addresses the automatic mirroring problem. The only question remains: do I use the Drobo as a time machine drive, and place the actual data and media files on the LaCie, or does the Time Machine blob stay on the Quadra and keep the Drobo for files/scratch space?

I guess I have some time to tighten up my plan while I wait for the Drobo to be shipped.

So the next time someone tells you that storage is cheap and easy, tell them it depends on what kind of plan you roll out. In this case, the opportunity cost is close to iPad territory. At least the family photos and videos will be well guarded, now all the kids have to hope for is that the format and codecs will still exist in 30 years…


  1. This is my 2 cents worth on the whole issue of couch editing from the original email discussion we had about this.

    Rule No 1: Never ever store iMovie events on the primary hard drive.
    You should have fire-wire drive enclosure by now that you will use as both the scratch disk and the project drive until you can get a second fire-wire enclosure so HD2 will be used for project storage while HD3 will become the scratch freeing HD1 to run everything. I know it becomes a little silly to have a stack of fire-wire drives on you desk just for movies. But it actually saves your primary drive.

    I still stand by this one even though I mess about with my Aperture library on the couch myself. But for me, movies and to a certain extent audio production should always be done with a scratch disk. You're moving huge amounts a data around all the time when you do multimedia editing, that kind of constant read and write really does start to wear down your drive after a while. I guess that is the other reason why they call'em “scratch disk”

  2. I have to make two comments:

    1) Avoid 5400rpm drive if you can, they are cheap but accessing and playing data back on those is not smart especially if you have many movies;

    2) Keeping all your data on the main drive is asking for trouble. I have two external USB drives (no firewire on the system) and I find
    its adequate for now. I have been eying some simple home NAS solution to provide me with redundancy. I also burn many of my movies to DVD, just in case… As for my MP3, I don’t really care if I lose them, I care more about the pictures…

  3. I'm really glad to see you went with cloud backup, any reasons why you chose Carbonite instead of one of the many others? Apart from OS X support of course.

    I don't understand why you chose the Drobo though, you seem to like La Cie and they have a number of RAID & NAS offerings. Yeah the Drobos look cool and they sound good but I found them over priced when I ended up buying my ReadyNAS Duo.