A Storage Story

| Just a Thought

One of the great things about Macworld Expo and Conference is that you can get a chance to get up close and personal with a variety of products. The problem is that you really can't get too personal with products because you're really not suppose to. The stuff vendors have on display are for show and tell: they show you just what they want you to see and tell you just what they want you to hear. You walk away thinking that the product is the greatest thing since feet and wonder how your life can possibly go on without it.

Unfortunately, many things in life seldom live up to the hype heaped upon them by their makers.

For instance, I'm in need of extra storage. My photographic efforts have quickly filled my 250GB FireWire drive and I want something that will provide lots of space, but also mirror the data onto a second drive so that nothing short of a meteor strike would have a chance of completely destroying my work.

I hurriedly checked around online and found what I thought was a good inexpensive solution. The vendor Web site claimed the product would provide security and simple set up. I bought the sales pitch hook, line, and sinker as well as the storage they advertised.

Well, the system arrived and I immediately went about getting it up and running. The problem was that there was nothing simple about the setup. Not easily found anywhere on the manufacturer's site, but readily shown in the setup guide (which you must open the packaging to read) is a statement that says that the storage system -- a 1 terabyte, 2-disk affair -- could not be set up for mirroring (RAID 1) on a Mac unless that Mac was of the PPC variety.


That's right. This vendor couldn't be bothered to recompile a bit of code so that it would run on an Intel Mac. They also couldn't be bothered to let perspective buyers know of this shortsightedness, choosing deception instead and withholding the truth until after purchase.

What's more is that the drives in this system are not hot swappable, also something not readily apparent until I opened the box. What's the sense of mirroring your data if you can't easily remove the mirrored drive and store it in a safe place?

Heck, I could have bought a better system from the back of a lowrider.

I sent the silly storage system back.

I'm not a huge fan of Best Buy, especially when you can get far better prices online, (or even the aforementioned lowrider manned by a guy whose dentist has a Fort Knox zip code) but one thing Best Buy, or any other brick and mortar store (or the lowrider) can offer is a chance to actually fondle, prod, poke, and otherwise handle equipment you intend to buy.

While out at Macworld I saw storage aplenty and could easily see advantages of one system over another.

The experience taught me 2 things:

1. Never buy IT equipment from the back of a low-riding Lincoln and a guy with more jewelry in his mouth than what Elizabeth Taylor owns. It makes returns tougher than they should be.

2. Spend the extra money and get the stuff you know you can use; don't "make do." Cheaping out on IT equipment will almost always cost you more in the long run.

I also realized is that there are a lot of storage options available out there, prices are falling and we, as computer using consumers, should really take advantage of the savings.

You won't just be saving a few bucks. If your main drive crashes you'll save a mountain of money in aspirin, blood pressure meds, and possibly your current harmonious existence with your significant other.

Over the course of the next few months I hope to examine several storage solutions and present my findings here and in my Just a Peek column.

Stay Tuned


Lee Dronick

“1. Never buy IT equipment from the back of a low-riding Lincoln and a guy with more jewelry in his mouth than what Elizabeth Taylor owns. It makes returns tougher than they should be.”

Don’t buy big flat screen TVs either, even of there is a Best Buy sticker on it, unless you need a piece of plywood. That has happened to a few people over the last few days here in San Diego.

Vern, I am a big fan of the NewTech MiniStack external hard drives. They have a footprint, and design, similar to a MacMini or Apple TV and as such stack nicely, or you can set your iPhone dock on top. They also have several USB and FireWire Ports so the drives are also a hub.

Charles Gousha

I have heard plenty of horror stories in the last few months about people using a RAID mirroring system as a backup solution.  Let’s get this straight.

The idea of RAID 1 is to keep two drives updated with the same data at all times, so that a failing drive can be instantly covered by a working drive.  IT IS NOT meant as a means to copy data to a second drive, then take that second drive away.  RAID rebuilds can take DAYS to happen, during which your data is more vulnerable than you think.

If you’re looking for always-good, every-moment data reliability, mirrored drives are good.  If you’re looking for a means to back up your data and put it in a safe place, please use any of the fine products meant for backup instead.


Vern:  if in your travels, you could give the Drobo system a gander.  It looks good and I am inclined to invest in one, but I wouldn’t mind your 2-bits worth.

Vern Seward

Hi all,

I’m putting together a list of vendors and Lacie, Promise, Iomega, NewTech, and Drobo are the top 5 though not in any particular order.

I saw the Lacie 2 Big and 4 Big systems at Macworld and became a fan. Their system can be stacked and aggregated to form a RAID cluster, expandable storage and it looks cool.

Promise also had a nice display showing their new SmartStor 4 disk array that can handle RAID 0,1,5, and 10 (stripping and mirroring) and can be network attached.

I’ve heard of Drobo and picked up some info, but didn’t get a chance to see what the hubbub was about.

This should be a fun assignment.

Throw more suggestion at me please.

Hey Charles. True enough, the idea of RAID 1 is to mirror the primary so that if it dies the secondary can easily take its place. The complexity you speak of really depends on the supporting software and hardware. Robust RAID file systems virtualize your drives now so that while to see 1TB you won’t know which drive is primary unless you make a point to see. If the primary dies you just get a notice that a drive died and you need to replace it ASAP.

In this arrangement swapping out a drive from time to time to act as a backup is easy. Restoring is a matter of putting in the backup drive and setting it as the primary and then let the secondary “catch up”. In fact, some of the vendors I met at Macworld advertised this feature. Of course, the reality may be different.

And true, there are many great backup apps around. One I saw that does what I suggested is called SoftRAID. With it you can mirror any set of drives, no matter how they are connected, then store your mirror offline as a backup. Their tagline is “Backup in 4 minutes, restore in 4 seconds”

You can even schedule “snapshot” mirrors and restore to that snapshot.

Like I said, this should be a fun assignment.

We shall see.



Enjoyed reading every bit of it. Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.


Jessica please.

You don’t need to suck up to Vern just to get me to buy one of your charming artichoke & carrot silk arrangements in a cast resin cachepot, featuring a delightful squirrel peering into the bowl attempting to hide his nuts for $195.


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