I think i might be cursed...
November 4, 2013 12:28 PM   Subscribe

When it comes to successfully storing and backing up my large photo, video, and music collection. Drives just keep failing and i'm at a crossroads of what direction to take in dealing with all this. Snowflake details inside.

So a bit earlier this year i had a string of bad luck with motherboards dying and killing my desktop at home three times. At the end of this i got an iMac for ridiculously cheap that was lightly used, but older and only had a 320gb drive which was *far* too little for my files. Fortunately, i had a 1tb drive laying around and threw it in a random external case of the "on sale on new egg" variety.

It worked fine for about a month and then failed. This resulted in a huge, tiresome data recovery process which took something like 3 days after a lot of procrastinating. I copied them all on to a nice, barely used TB MyBook drive borrowed from my work that had maybe been used 12 times since it was purchased. That, unfortunately, has a stupid firmware which spins down the drive after a couple minutes of inactivity(which you can't disable, woo!)... so the drive is perpetually spinning up and down all day. I wrote a shell script to try and ping it every 5, and then every 2 minutes but it just caches whatever data i try and touch and spins down. it's already developed issues with spinning up consistently and will likely die quite soon.

So what i need is something reliable to store all my stuff on that meets these 5 requirements:

* RAID of some variety. Torn between just some box with two drives that mirrors them in raid 1, and something with 4-5 drives that gives you raid 5

* Firewire 800 or 400 is preferred, but USB is an option i guess if it's something particularly great on the price/performance scale. I'm also not ruling out a NAS, and could fairly easily accommodate that option.

* This drive will be connected to the iMac which is running both media server and torrent software for files on the drive. Video editing software also occasionally grabs stuff from here. This isn't a backup, this is the live primary copy of all this stuff. It can't be super slow or have crappy latency.

* Be extremely quiet. This will be going in my living room where my hifi setup and "home theater" of sorts are, along with my desk+imac and just generally where i sit most of the time. I don't want to be hearing some 80mm fan running at 5000rpm thats just wired up to run full speed 24/7 on some cheap box.

* Not be a kajillion dollars. I realize i'm likely going to have to source the unit and the drives here, but i'm not trying to spend a grand. Under $500 or really as little as possible would be great, but i realize i may be floating close to that number factoring in something quality and room to grow.

If i was rich i would just go buy a 4 bay synology and a bunch of 3tb drives and forget this question ever existed, but thats well... about $1000, and this isn't data i use for work or that makes me money or anything. I also found a good deal locally on a lightly used drobo with 8tb of drives for $400(!), but all of the google suggestions on the search page when i typed in drobo were stuff like "drobo issues" and "drobo failure" which lead to quite a few posts like this which is a shame because those things sound great on paper.

So what's my dream solution here? how should i be handling this?

NOTE: this is not a backup solution, and that's not really what i'm asking for at all here. That's an entirely separate question and problem that i can sort out on my own. This simply needs to be a reliable way to store the "originals" of these files that's fairly insulated against hardware failure.
posted by emptythought to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
With all of the failures you've had, I would be very, very suspicious of a power problem on that outlet, in your home or with your local utility. The first thing to do is buy a UPS for your equipment. This should condition the power to some degree and protect you from brownouts or blackouts.

RAID 5 gives you protection against a single drive failure, same as RAID 1. The only reason I can see to do RAID 5 is if you need the additional capacity. I'd just do a two drive RAID 1. Assuming you don't have a power issue, you've just had a string of bad luck. This kind of equipment is generally pretty reliable.

Edit: Here's a guide to preventing your drive from sleeping. It creates and deletes a file, which the drive can't really cache, so theoretically, it should work. (The thread also notes that this behavior can be turned off with WD's software, but I assume you've already gone that route.)
posted by cnc at 12:48 PM on November 4, 2013

I just got myself a Synology DS213j with a 3TB WD Red drive, which is specially made for NAS. Amazon shipped this for around $330. One of these days I'll add another 3TB into RAID and I'll be done, but at the moment I have my data backed up on ext. disks anyway.

I can not praise the Synology drive high enough. I used to run stuff on a raspberryPI and it was such a pain to get everything configured. And the CPU was always up to the max. The NAS is just working, you can tweak the fan settings, offers a space to run a wide array of applications such as torrent, media server, backup to the cloud and so on.

Maybe it would be worth your time to have a second look at the NAS? But I certainly agree that a UPS would be a good investment as well. They come in all sizes and some of them aren't too expensive.
posted by nostrada at 1:00 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read that in some cases the Linux tool hdparm can be used to alter that spin-down behavior but I returned the drive I was having problems with to the store before I could test it out. (hdparm is included on some live CD distritubtions, so you don't have to install Linux to try it.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:05 PM on November 4, 2013

I just got myself a Synology DS213j with a 3TB WD Red drive, which is specially made for NAS. Amazon shipped this for around $330.

Like you, I'm a heavy multimedia generator (public radio producer, field recordist, and musicologist). I have a 213j at home as well, and it's amazing. If you don't already have a gigabit switch (at least) or a gigabit router at home, that will make a huge difference in your transfer speeds. Since the 213j is their most basic RAID 1 model, it feels on the slower end of the spectrum, data transfer-wise, but if you're just using it for backup and not actively working from it all the time, it's perfectly acceptable. We also have a Synology five-bay DS508 at work, and it's a damn sight zippier.
posted by mykescipark at 1:14 PM on November 4, 2013

nthing the Synology DS213j. And stay the heck away from iOmega's. I got one cheap in a Black Friday sale and the drives have required multiple replacements which was OK when it was under warranty but once it dropped out I switched to the Synology.
And if you RAID you absolutely positively must get an UPS.
posted by Runes at 1:20 PM on November 4, 2013

You should buy the Synology for this review alone.
posted by mercredi at 3:48 PM on November 4, 2013

Edit: Here's a guide to preventing your drive from sleeping. It creates and deletes a file, which the drive can't really cache, so theoretically, it should work. (The thread also notes that this behavior can be turned off with WD's software, but I assume you've already gone that route.)

Oh, worth noting, the system it's connected to is an iMac running 10.9. I tried putting a shell script like this in the crontab but apparently since that's "deprecated and you should use launchd" it refuses to actually do anything :\ sigh.

Also, WDs software won't play nice with this drive or 10.9. I thought about trying to tweak it in bootcamp or with a windows laptop laying around or something but the windows WD app wouldn't play nice with it either.

It looks like the chorus for the synology is pretty unanimous. I have quite a bit of experience using those at work, and really my only issue with them is that i didn't want a NAS theory. They're rock solid reliable. The only time i thought one broke the fan randomly wouldn't spin up and the alarm went off, and i literally yelled "HEY WHAT THE FUCK" at it, and it seemingly shocked the fan into spinning up. year later it's still working perfectly.

I just didn't know if there wasn't some better, less expensive solution out there that i didn't know about.

The only reason I can see to do RAID 5 is if you need the additional capacity.

Yep, that was the idea. Extra copies of all the data on my laptops and idevices, room to expand my various media libraries.
posted by emptythought at 1:37 AM on November 5, 2013

Three WD Reds ($300): two for a RAID1 setup, one for external off-site backup.
Synology NAS, HP Proliant microserver NAS, etc. ($250 - $400), or something similar.
Garden-variety small UPS with a USB status port ($50).
Gigabit ethernet switch ($30).

RAID5 for most home folks isn't a good investment when compared to RAID1 unless you're enclosure-limited, etc. As you've noted, there's no added redundancy, just better storage utilization; compare the cost of three N-sized drives to two N*1.5-sized drives. (3 x 2TB == $330, 2 x 3TB == $270) Factor in the off-site drive's usability as a hardware-identical hot swap (once you replace it with a drive from your local computer store, of course) and RAID1 only looks better.
posted by introp at 7:27 AM on November 5, 2013

After a string of disappointing external single-drive enclosures, I just bought a Synology 413j with a pair of 3TB WD Red drives. (I plan to add another pair of larger drives in the medium future.) I suggest that you go for something like this device.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2013

Super late reply here, but for anyone having similar problems who finds this thread i thought it might be worthwhile.

I got a really nice commercial line-interactive UPS for super cheap used and put my mac/drives/etc on it. I haven't had a SINGLE issue since i did that. The power is indeed wonky in this building, and i hear the relays clicking in the UPS fairly often.

I never actually bought a synology, since it just kept feeling like overkill for what i do with that machine, which it still does perfectly fine and is still very power efficient setup in the 20-40 watt range screen off idling(it's essentially a data locker/media streamer that occasionally gets used for simple internet browsing or music streaming).

But yea, it was a wonky power issue. Despite the fact that it became very hard to prove that. Adding a real, not just a "standby" ups solved the problem.

I did eat more equipment before i figured this out though -_-
posted by emptythought at 8:46 PM on May 31, 2014

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