Most people don’t even have a single backup of their files. A few will signup for cloud services, but those require a fast persistent internet connection, and may require days for system recovery. Here are some other drawbacks to cloud backups:

  • Data Security. They also put your data in the cloud which, despite login and security measures may be vulnerable. If a malware allows a hacker to get your password, your data is now vulnerable.
  • System Recoverability. A cloud backup of your files isn’t the same as a full system backup. You can’t recover an entire computer from the cloud, with all your software, bookmarks, settings, hardware drivers, etc. and be up and running on a new computer again in minutes.
  • Backup Speed. Larger files like HD videos or collections of high resolution RAW photos may take hours or days of upload time depending on your Internet service.
  • Cost. Upload speeds are generally much slower than download speeds. So, to get faster upload speeds for fast cloud backups, you’ll probably need to pay for 100Mbps download speed which can be costly. So, now your $39.99 per year cloud service is costing you $50 or more per month just to get the required bandwidth.

For all these reasons, cloud backup services are still good as a remote off-site backup of data, but not useful as your only form of backup.

The following drives would give you redundant copies of your data, and a mirror of your computer’s operating system, software, settings, and data that could be used in minutes to be up and running on another computer.

If the following seems like too much, then choose only the top two drives to begin with, and add the other later as you’re able or as fits your needs.

The 8 Hard Drives You Need Today

  1. File Versions. You should have a Windows File History or Apple Time Machine backup drive to make sure that all the files currently on your computer are backed up hourly, with versions you can go back to in case something goes wrong with a current version you’re working on. You may actually want two of these drives so that one is always disconnected in case of a ransomware attack. You can alternate backups from one day to the next. The main benefit of a File Versions backup is that you can go back to versions of your files, or past backups of your files, from weeks or months ago.
  2. System Backup. You should have a bootable mirror backup of your entire computer system so if your drive crashes, gets corrupted, or is unusable for any other reason, you can startup with the mirror drive on any other computer in minutes. Use a 2.5” or 3.5” drive in a dock so it can be quickly installed into any computer (laptop or desktop respectively). Apple (and now Windows 10) computers make it easy to put a drive in just about any computer and keep working. Keep in mind that a mirrored clone of your drive is different than having a full system backup of your computer. A full system backup would need to be restored, and sometimes those restoration processes fail. A full system backup is typically on an external USB drive that you can’t boot up from on most computers. So, having a mirror image of your hard drive is a great idea. This is similar to having a RAID system where your system drive is mirrored in real time (RAID 1). However, by doing the mirror backup manually, you can keep that backup ‘offline’ and preserved in the event of a bad virus or ransomware attack. With RAID 1 (or any RAID for that matter), the virus or ransomware issues are just instantly copied across all your drives. So, in that scenario, RAID simply becomes a super efficient way to render your computer all your files useless. If you want versioning for your cloned system drive, you can do this by using extra hard drives to make additional clone drives.
    • NOTE: Some computers have non-removable drives or drives that aren’t easily replaced. In such cases you may need to use an external drive to keep using the computer if there is a non recoverable failure with your drive. On computers with fast USB or Thunderbolt connections, you could potentially boot up from an external drive without much trouble.
  3. Data Archive Drive. By now you probably have data going back many years that just won’t fit on a single computer hard drive. Hopefully your new computer has an SSD drive. These are generally smaller, so that’s one reason all your data might not fit. The other reason is because we all accumulate data over the years. This drive is called an archive drive because files are stored in folders by year and those folders are unlikely to change much unless you do some housekeeping and organizing of previous years’ data.
  4. Data Archive Drive – Mirror. Drives fail. You should not have only one copy of your precious files only on one external drive. You need a second drive to copy and synchronize files to.
  5. Media Files. Videos, photos, and music require a lot of space for storage. These collections also tend to grow over time into large libraries with content that’s never really outdated. We’re often going back to access music, movies, or photos from years ago. Because photos and music files are increasingly stored in the cloud, it may be that you only have videos that need to be on a local drive. Or, maybe, you’re a photographer with terabytes of photos. Today’s cameras, especially those that save RAW photos, require much more storage space. So, having a drive for media is helpful. Also, there may be some large files that you don’t need regular daily access to. These can be placed on an external drive without much inconvenience. Because of their size, it’s helpful to keep media files separate from your other data files. For example, you could keep 20 years of word processing documents and other smaller files on a single drive. However, with media files, they take up much more room. In some cases, programs like Final Cut Pro, Photos, and others use what appears to be a single file that contains years worth of data. So, there’s no particular ‘year’ to store such files under. It’s better just to keep them in a drive on their own.
  6. Media Files – Mirror. Drives fail. You should not have only one copy of your precious files only on one external drive. You need a second drive to copy and synchronize files to.
  7. This Year’s Files. Computers with faster SSD (solid state drive) technology are becoming more available, but you still may find that having all your current working files on a single external SSD USB 3.0 drive is a fast way to get work done, especially if your primary internal drive isn’t SSD. Also, if you do video editing, moving as much content to an external drive will free up space on your internal drive for video projects. This also makes it easy to go between a desktop and laptop computer just by removing the drive and putting it into another computer. If you have a computer crash, your data is still safe, and instantly accessible on another computer.
  8. This Year’s Files – Mirror. Drives fail. You should not have only one copy of your precious files only on one external drive. You need a second drive to copy and synchronize files to.

Traditional and SSD Drives

The data you’re working with daily should be on faster SSD drives. Archive data and other files that you only need occasionally can be on traditional drives that are mirrored. This saves a lot of money, and gets you much more storage per drive than is available with SSD drives. It’s a hybrid solution with discrete / separate components (unlike hybrid hard drives which combine SSD and traditional drives in one). So, if there’s a failure with one drive, you’ll have a mirror to use. Distributing your data, as described above, across several hard drives means that if one goes down, the others can still be used.

Avoid RAID

Unless you are running a huge enterprise, with massive data requirements, heavily used databases, and need 100% uptime, then avoiding RAID is probably a good idea.

RAID is generally considered a preventive measure to avoid downtime in the event of a mechanical hard drive failure. In some cases it’s used for greater performance. Solid State Drive (SSD) technology has made performance and reliability less of an issue.

For most people, RAID is not really required and better results can be achieved by using a manual form of RAID 1 – which is copying (or synchronizing) your drive to a secondary drive. This takes only a few minutes or seconds per day and basically achieves all that RAID offers.

If you’re on a budget and need to choose between RAID (hardware redundancy) and backups (data redundancy) you’re better off choosing backups. You can buy a new hard drive if yours crashes. You can’t buy your data if your drive crashes.

Also, a RAID system doesn’t protect against ransomware, viruses, and system crashes. It only protects against a failed drive. Manual mirroring of your computer (as explained in #2 above) is likely a better choice because it allows you to keep the mirror ‘offline’ where it’s not vulnerable to viruses or ransomware.

RAID requires some setup and if something goes wrong, rebuilding is required. It makes data recovery difficult if something does go wrong with the RAID system. You can’t just pull your drives out and easily reassemble them elsewhere. If two drives fail, depending on your configuration, you could lose data. RAID compatible hardware can be costly — requiring multiple drive arrays.

ABTD – Always Buy Two Drives

If you’re in the store buying a hard drive, that means you have something worth saving to it. Hard drives regularly crash. They can have mechanical failures or system file corruption making the files inaccessible. Recovering the data can cost as much as $1,500. So, if you’re buying a hard drive, go ahead and buy a second drive that you’ll use as a backup of that drive in case it fails. It will cost much less than trying to recover the data later, and you’ll have some peace of mind.

Required Hardware

Above are the 8 hard drives you should probably be using. Here’s a way to manage all of them. Using external drive enclosures and drive docks allows you to use more economical raw drives that don’t individually have their own enclosures. Also, some multi-bay drive enclosures have excellent cooling fans making it possible to use a hard drive continually without worrying about overheating. High-speed high-capacity drives tend to heat up.

  1. Four Bay Drive Enclosure. There are many four bay drive enclosures on Amazon. The nicer ones have fans, which are absolutely necessary to avoid overheating a drive. So, these are good for the drives you use regularly or keep plugged in all the time. Usually these require hardware mounting screws to mount drives on drive rails that slide in.
  2. Drive Docking Bays. You may have drives that you only occasionally use from the list above. It’s handy to have drive dock that you can drop a drive in without any need for removing screws. These units typically aren’t cooled so you would want to use the drive for short time (30-60 minutes) and then let it cool off, or use a small fan to blow on the drives while in use. The docking bay is good to use for the quick incremental backups, clones, or synchronizations you do. These don’t take long, and you can quickly swap out drives going from one to the next with ease. Drive docs are also generally cheaper than an enclosure. So, it’s a way to have access to many more drives, if you don’t need to access them all at the same time.

Required Software

  • Carbon Copy Cloner by Bombich. If you’re exclusively an Apple user, having Carbon Copy Cloner is essential. It helps you ensure that you have working bootable clone images of your hard drive. [Learn More]
  • Delta Walker. To synchronize your files and make sure that a secondary drive is a mirror of the first, you can use Delta Walker software on Windows or Apple computers. This software has many other benefits besides backing up files, such as comparing two folders on your computer to look for unwanted duplicates or checking for missing copies of files. [Learn More]
  • EasUS Todo Backup. The free version of Todo Backup lets you clone Windows computer hard drives, making a bootable copy of your computer. You can also use this software to migrate your computer from a traditional hard drive to an SSD hard drive. [Learn More]

Questions or Suggestions?

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