Saving Your Digital Life

By Jason Griffey |

Like most of us online and definitely like most libraries, I create more and more and more digital relics as I go through life. Pictures, videos, songs I've bought, ebooks I've downloaded, things I've name it. If it's being created you can bet it's probably being created digitally. This all adds up, though, and the fate of any hard drive is to be filled with both really important, highly critical files and with digital ephemera that you want, but don't need daily. I've got a three-fold solution that I use, and will hopefully be helpful in solving some problem for libraries (or at least, librarians) out there.

I have, basically, three kinds of data that I'm worried about protecting in some way: working files, files that are important but replaceable, and files that I can't afford to lose at all. Working files are just that: files that I'm currently working on for whatever reason. Might be a photo I'm editing, or a document, or an MP3 that I need to move to another computer...anything that requires action. Files that are important, but replaceable, are things that make my life easier if they are in digital form, mostly media. DVDs I've purchased and CDs I own have all been digitized, because I want to be able to watch them when I want and not when I remember to have a disk of plastic with me. I also want to be able to move them to my iPhone or other portable media player. If I lose the digital, it's ok, because I can just re-digitize them, but I really, really don't want to have to do that. And finally, there are the files that I just can't lose for any reason. Things like tax returns, photos of my daughter, receipts, and other digital items that need to be safe even if there's a natural disaster.

So how do I handle all of this? With one piece of hardware, a few pieces of software, and broadband. The piece of hardware is an expandable, redundant external hard drive called a Drobo , and the software I use is Dropbox and either Mozy or Carbonite .

Drobo is a 4-bay external hard drive, with USB and Firewire connectivity. It's running a form of RAID, but with far, far more flexibility. You can add any SATA hard drive, regardless of size, and Drobo just adds up the total of the drives in the case. You have to have at least 2 drives to start with, and Drobo reserves a little less than a third of the space for redundancy. This means that if you have a hard drive failure, recovery is as easy as popping out the damaged drive, and popping in a new SATA drive. Drobo handles rebuilding the file system and data with no break in service or storage. This is unlike a RAID system, where the drives have to be the same size. If you have 2 old 500GB drive laying around, you can put both in your Drobo, it will format them as a single unit of 1TB, reserve a half for data redundancy, and give you a 500GB drive that is fully redundant. But if you add a third 500GB drive, what you get almost 1TB of storage, with 500GB reserved for redundancy. It isn't a purely linear addition...for every bigger, larger drive you add, the more and more space you have usable. The Drobo is capable of supporting up to 16TB of storage, 4 times 4TB drives. Of course, there aren't 4TB drives yet, but when there are, you can throw them in your Drobo.

So why do I care? Because for those things that are important, but replaceable, and for those things that I can't afford to lose at all, having local copies that are fully redundant against hard drive failure is a very, very good thing. When loaded on to a Drobo, it would take two hard drives failing at the same time or the Drobo hardware itself failing, before I lose any data. And if the Drobo itself fails, but the hard drives are ok, Data Robotics, the company that makes the Drobo, can recover the data for me. As my need for storage grows (because I'm not buying less music or less video), Drobo allows me to simply pull a smaller drive and insert a larger one, and that's it.

But lets assume that my house burns down, or floods, or gets picked up by a tornado; then what? Well, those things that I can replace, I do. Those completely irreplaceable digital objects that were on my Drobo are gone as well. Except that I backed them up to an online storage facility. There are two that I tried out and recommend: Mozy and Carbonite. Both are dead simple to set up. You sign up with their service, download a program, and tell that program which folders you want backed up. Anytime your computer isn't busy, the program checks the folders, and uploads anything that hasn't been uploaded to your online account yet. The upload and download are encrypted, and you get unlimited storage for very, very cheap prices: Mozy is $4.95 a month, while Carbonite is just $54.95 a year, and cheaper if you buy more than one year at a time. For that you get an unlimited amount of space to store your files, online access, and guaranteed peace of mind. So I can access those irreplaceable files from any computer, anywhere in the world. In order to lose them, then, I'd have to have double hard drive failure to kill the Drobo and Mozy would have to go out of business, with no warning, and delete all my the same time.

So I've protected two aspects of my digital life. What about my working files? There, I use a service called Dropbox. Dropbox is an online storage service that acts as a synchronization tool for every computer in your life: home, work, laptop, etc. You sign up with Dropbox and get 2GB of free storage, and then download a small program to each computer you are using. Dropbox automatically keeps all of those folders in sync with all of the computers you use. Add something to the folder while on your laptop, and when you get home it's on your computer waiting for you. At home working on a spreadsheet? Throw it in your Dropbox, and when you get to work it will be there. At a business center, and need that same spreadsheet? It's available on the Dropbox website, and when you get through working on it you can upload it again and the changes will sync to your other systems. It's like the best thumbdrive in the world, in the cloud. The dropbox website even remembers versions of your files, so if you made a change and want to revert to a previous version of the file, you can go to the website and download that previous version. As I joked to a coworker, I think it runs on rainbows and unicorns, because it seems like magic.

Between these three tools, I feel like I've got my digital life pretty sorted out. Working files move from Dropbox onto the Drobo, and then into the Mozy folder if they are something I can't ever lose. My data is safe, and it would take incredibly unlikely events for me to lose anything really important. How do you care for your own data? How does your library care for its data? Would one of these solutions work to help either you or your library? Do you do something different that I should know about? Please tell me in the comments!