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Ah ha!

Sunday was a pleasantly geeky day. Actually, the whole weekend was pretty darn geeky. I had an ah ha! moment that rippled out into a bunch of things.

On Saturday I was pondering the appropriate data backup solution to recommend to the landscaping company my sister works at. I really wanted to point them to tape, but tape drive prices are really high (~$725 for a HP 4mm DDS3 tape drive and controller). An external DVD writer was an option (a lot cheaper at under $200 for the hardware), but I really didn't want to advocate using such small media (only 4.7GB per disc {yes, I know double-layer DVDs hold around 10GB, but they cost more}). I was flipping through the JDR catalog when ah ha! External hard drives with USB 2.0 connections are dirt cheap. I could recommend a 120GB drive and a USB 2.0 card for their 'server' PC for about $165 and they'd be in business. With a disk that big they could keep multiple copies of their data. Their financial person is already backing up her QuickBooks files to ZiP disk, so it shouldn't be too hard to get her into dumping files to the drive.

With that problem solved, I realized that the solution had more than one application. I've been trying to figure out a better solution for backing up the home server. I have a 4mm DDS4 drive, and I get about 20GB per tape. The server has almost 57GB worth of files on it (about half are my MP3s), so I takes three tapes to get it all. This means that I've only been running full backups about once a quarter, and just dumping our home directories weekly. Not having weekly full backups has been making my skin itch. But, the cost of a tape drive large enough to hold everything on one tape was several thousand dollars.

It came to me that, while I want complete backups, I don't really need long-term backups. I need to be able to recover from a massive hardware failure, or an "oh shit" (as in, oh shit I meant to do a 'save as' ... an exclamation from Asha that was my last cause for restoring something from tape). Nothing there requires having multiple sets of backups going back over weeks or months. Huh. A big disk drive would do nicely.

So, I trundled over to CompUSA Saturday afternoon and picked up a USB 2.0 adapter card (my three year old server only has USB 1.1 ports) and a pair of 160GB external disks. After some initial fussing (get thee out of my way McAfee!), I was able to run backups onto both drives. And, until the data on the server grows substantially, I'll be able to keep two complete backups on each drive. One will stay at home for weekly backups. The other goes to work "just in case" (as in just in case the house burns down). Hopefully this will prove sufficiently more convenient than shuffling tapes that I'll do backups for off-site storage monthly instead of quarterly.


I spent Sunday culling through five old PCs: One I raided all of the useful parts out of, leaving a stripped chassis to go into the metal recycling bin on our next dump run (how many old Pentiums does one geek need?). One I got ready to serve as a test Linux box. The others I raided to collect all of their 4GB drives (I somehow grew a real pile of 4GB SCSI drives a few years ago) for a Linux RAID test. At the height of this orgy of parts swapping the spare room looked like the site of a small explosion. My only wish is that I had remembered to bring home my cordless screw-shooter from work. Ah well, any day that involves laying a screwdriver to hardware is a good one!

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