Managing Your Storage Data

It's been two plus years since I have migrated all my crucial data into a personal Network Attached Storage (NAS). For those who want a short and sweet answer, get it, and for those who can afford, get one with a redundancy feature, as that would be even better. 

I used to dump my data into multiple portable hard drives and retire them into my cupboard, genuinely hoping that I will never use them. I was naive enough to think that this will work in any case of a hard drive failure. Much to my dismay, I was really unlucky that one of my backup hard drives failed when I needed to retrieve some data. Worse still, the hard drive was only used once during the archiving process and yes, I did check all my files before I kept the hard drive. 

After much research, I realised my mistake in assuming that the service life of a hard drive will remain full when not in use. I mean, logically speaking, if an item is only used once, it should not even spoil when it is not being used right? Reality check: real world items do not work that way. 

The physical design of a hard disk drive (HDD) has its limitations since the whole enclosure functions from a spinning platter (the part that stores your data) and a reader to read and write from it. This mechanical design is much more fragile as compared to a solid state drive (SSD) as there are moving parts that are more sensitive to displacement either caused by accidents or general wear and tear. Normally, it is advisable to replace your HDD after 4-5 years of usage as a preventive measure for a hard disk failure. 

Thus, one might conclude that ensuring the backup drives are well within the recommended time frame of serviceability will do the trick. However, that is only part of the equation because it does not provide any redundancy feature. NAS systems provide a solution that distinctively answers the problem mentioned above. Not only will that provide adequate storage space for your archived files (depending on the system configuration) most of the time, but also most NAS will bundle redundancy features together with the system, such as redundant array of independent disks (RAID) or physical USB backup. 

The purpose of this post is to share my experiences in applying and integrating a NAS into my digital life. When I first started out looking for a better solution, I was not ready to invest a good sum of money into NAS. Thus, I chose the WD My Cloud NAS as my backup solution as I can afford it comfortably, and the price per GB (about 0.08 cents) was rather close to a standard HDD ratio.  Setting up the device was rather straightforward if you have some background in computer networking. 

Organising the backed up files was easy as you skipped through all the agonising moments of labelling your hard disk physically and neatly (a little OCD problem of mine). The only essential steps were to store the relevant files to the relevant folders where you can comprehend it easily. Since this is Network Attached Storage, accessibility of files on multiple platforms (Cloud Computing) through The Internet is also possible. This factor has greatly cultivated my habit of using portable devices of average storage size, for example, my 16GB Nexus 5. I would usually store all my critical data on my phone and still retain accessibility to my other files in NAS when needed (e.g. photos, documents). Although one might have to be a little disciplined to manage the consumption of your offline storage space, it does not bother me anymore as of late since I do not have to worry about running out of inbuilt storage space. 

How I label my disk drives

With the added attributes of NAS system, the initial cost of a simple NAS system will always be higher than a generic HDD solution. However, the increment in price will be justified in the long run as replacement of a failed hard drive is much easier and reindexing a new drive will also shorten system downtime. Although my WD My Cloud does not allow drives to be hot swappable, I used a physical hard disk of larger storage capacity (not necessary) to backup the My Cloud unit in case it fails. 

Another factor that might bottleneck the performance of your NAS will be the data throughput of your network. The download / upload speed of your network will usually determine how fast your NAS performs, henceforth, additional thoughts in planning your networking system are also crucial in optimising your NAS performance. 

Throughout this whole experience, I am really glad to have taken on the NAS solution and make my data more centralised to access. There are also many other solutions such as Google Drive, which provides 15GB of free storage space for your cloud computing needs, and Rack Space, which provides different packing tiers for those who wish to have a private cloud without the hassle of managing the hardware. 

Cloud computing has definitely gained more traction than what I have observed since I started exploring NAS. Advantages of cloud computing are definitely attracting more people into the scene. Nonetheless, such systems should be managed properly to prevent compromise in data integrity.