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The Noise Jockey Data Storage Guide, Part Two: My Strategy

Posted: July 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: gear

The home studio, circa summer 2011.

Following on my previous post, here’s how I break down data storage, redundancy, and backup in my own home studio. These strategies won’t work for everyone, but having tried lots of different configurations, this setup balances redundancy, backup, flexibility, speed, and most of all, cost. And, of course, this breakdown is only useful in the small home studio. Larger studios have totally different needs!

My Data Storage Topology

Internal Hard Drive: Apps and Personal Data

The internal hard drive inside my MacBook Pro 17″ laptop holds only applications, plug-ins, and non-mission-critical personal data. I upgraded the stock internal drive to a 1TB 7200rpm hard disk. If I had a desktop machine instead of a laptop, I’d probably want a second internal hard drive so that I could split my personal files and data separately from my system and application data.

External RAID: Project Data

I have an Otherworld Computing Qx2 RAID with four disks, striped for RAID5. I keep it to 1.5TB in size – four 500GB hard drives, since RAID5 has a capacity of N-1 – in order to ensure that Pro Tools can access it for live projects, and to reduce read/seek times. I use enterprise-class, 7200rpm hard drives and always keep a fifth hot-swappable spare in case one of the disks goes down. While the enterprise model is more expensive, its warranty and drop-shipment of replacement drives is worth the piece of mind.

External Hard Drive: Scratch Disk

This Seagate Barracude 7200rpm drive, mounted in an Otherworld Computing Mercury Elite Pro enclosure, is only used as a scratch disk for applications like Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Peak Pro, and transfers from Soundminer into Pro Tools. I never store any of my own data on it. It is only 160GB in size, which is more than enough for this purpose. Ideally this would be a 10,000rpm drive, but that’s a bit spendy with all the other stuff I’ve got going on. There are also confusing reports about the speed benefits (or lack thereof) of using a solid state drive as a scratch disk, so I’ll try that at a later date. If this drive fails, I have a spare 80GB Barracuda stored offline in a closet that I can press into service.

External Hard Drive Dock: Backups

This is a strategy that I picked up from Michael Raphael of Rabbit Ears Audio. Drive docks like my NewerTech Voyager Q are basically the guts of a hard drive enclosure in a little toaster-like box: You pop a drive in like a piece of bread, use it, then pop it back out when it’s done. I keep two raw, unmounted hard drives that each match the sizes of my internal hard drive and my RAID (meaning four drives in total). One drive is an onsite backup, updated weekly (or more), and one drive is an offsite backup, updated monthly (or more frequently when really in crunch mode). While I’ve done this with standard hard drives in the past, this method is faster, doesn’t require swapping of cables, and is far cheaper than owning redundant and unnecessary enclosures and power supplies. Each backup drive is matched to the size of the volume it’s backing up. I store my raw hard drives in clever little cases called Hudzees.

Just being able to rip apart failed enclosed hard drives and find that only a power supply went bad has let me continue to use hard drives that I’d otherwise not be able to diagnose, saving me hundreds of dollars and having paid back the drive dock within a month or two.

Backup Strategy

I always ensure my internal hard drive backups are bootable by using SuperDuper. If I’m deep in a serious project, I’ll pop a drive into the dock and use ChronoSync to keep daily work backed up. In regular use, I create weekly backups that are stored onsite, in my studio. Once a month (I useGoogle Calendar for such reminders), I bring my offsite drives home and do a backup, leaving them at home over the weekend (the backups can take a while) and taking them back offsite on Monday morning. Sometimes I’ll use DropBox for project-file storage if I need backups to be more frequent and if the file sizes aren’t too large, especially if I’m collaborating with someone. (I have yet to try Gobbler.)

What I love about this system is that it reduces MTBF – mean time between failures. With the drive only spinning up when you need it, wear and tear on the drive is greatly reduced. I’ll be the first to point out that drive docks don’t have fans to cool drives down during long transfers, but if heat can escape upwards, I think that risk is pretty minimal. I also love how my electricity use has gone down because my backups and archives are kept offline until needed. As a guy who grew up with Retrospect Remote, Exabyte tapes, and other dead technologies, it’s quite a revelation. Being able to put the backup drives away in a drawer, in cases that look like Betacam SP tapes, could be less likely to be stolen if my home is broken into.

It’s not instantaneous or perfect, but so far, it’s worked, and has carried me through multiple hard drive and RAID failures.

My final backup component is a “bug-out drive.” This sits in a backpack (a “bug-out bag”) with a bunch of emergency supplies that are a part of living in earthquake and wildfire country. This drive just holds my most precious archive of personal work and financial records, on a 1TB 2.5″ (laptop-sized) drive in an aluminum enclosure. It’s in a waterproof Otterbox, and gets updated whenever I wrap a significant project or update my financials. After a part of my neighborhood had the police demand that residents leave immediately, right now, due to a nearby wildfire, this jumped to the top of my backup strategy list. If I have more time, of course, I would rather throw my raw hard drive collection and laptop in a messenger bag, but that recent event proved that sometimes that’s not an option!

Thoughts on Upgrades

What’s the future hold? Well, I’m carefully watching the price of solid state drives come down, and considering having an internal boot and app drive that’s solid state. I’d also someday consider a RAID that will hold nothing but archived projects, but for now the modular hard drive dock system is more expandable, doesn’t need to be powered up all the time, is redundant between onsite and offsite, and takes a lot less power over the course of a year. I’ll need something pretty weird to happen (read: lose tons of data in some really creative way) to get me onto a different system. I’m also thinking of going back to a desktop machine after six or seven years of being a laptop-only kind of guy, which might make me consider a second RAID inside the box for, say, dedicated sample library storage, but time will tell.

But that’s just me. If you would like to share tidbits about your own backup strategies and data storage systems in your home studio, please share with us all in the comments!


4 Comments on “The Noise Jockey Data Storage Guide, Part Two: My Strategy”

  1. 1 Azimuth Audio said at 8:07 pm on July 20th, 2011:

    What about SFX library storage? Is that part of your project data raid or do you have a dedicated drive for SFX? Depending on the size of the library it seems like a dedicated drive would be the way to go.

    Seems like this would be the data that would be hardest to replicate in worst case scenario.

    Love the idea of the “bug out” drive. Gonna steal that idea for sure.

  2. 2 Nathan said at 9:46 am on July 21st, 2011:

    @Azimuth: Right now, it’s part of my project data RAID, but as I state in the last paragraph, when my SFX library gets too large, it will get its own RAID…probably still RAID5. The larger the RAID, the more challenging it can be to use single hard drives in a dock, just because 3-4TB single drives are just now becoming widely available. At that point, your library will change less frequently than your project hard drive, so online backups might make good sense!

  3. 3 Mike said at 10:15 am on July 27th, 2011:

    Solid info. The bug out drive is something I’ve done for years. In addition have a 2.5″ 320G that I trade out with another in a safety deposit box for All must have files. For the uncases hard drive access I use a Newer Technologies universal drive adapter (USB). Your dedicated “toaster” would be an upgrade idea if it had Firewire 800 for all the big file transfer. Thanks for your blog.

  4. 4 Nathan said at 4:37 pm on July 27th, 2011:

    @Mike, sounds like you have a great system. By the way, the Voyager Q hard drive dock IS Firewire 800, so it’s pretty darned speedy. Thanks for reading and contributing your experiences!

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