The benefit of the backup..

This week we received a reader email explaining basically the worst possible scenario that can happen to his HTPC had happened, and he was looking for relief.  We wont give any names since we don’t want to point out your inefficiencies in planning for disaster (even if its only an HTPC!).  It made me really think about my backup plan in case of disaster. and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.  Let’s look at his setup a little and how he could have improved his situation.  (Beware: this post could get a little nerdier than usual, but I suggest you read on!)

The Setup:

This reader had a Windows server (HP Slimline S5-1260) running Windows server 2003 & PlexApp and a NAS RAID (Western Digital MyBook Studio 6TB) which he had one large partition on where he stored his videos and music etc on the network.  The WD MyBook Studio was configured as a 2drive RAID-0, meaning that the drives are spanned to get the most capacity with the least amount of redundancy.  He also had some WD Live TV clients connected back to the MyBook as remote clients.  Now in theory this sounds like a great setup, HOLY 6TB is enough storage for hundreds of 1080P Blu-Rays.  However, there was no RAID redundancy should one of those two drives fail, nor was there any redundancy on the internal hard drive if the OS drive failed.  And he didn’t consider a power backup either, which was in a way the fatal flaw…  I guess he didn’t read into how much I love my UPS (uninterruptible power supply), more on this later.

The Crash:

Power had never been an issue, but on this stormy day his house loses power in the middle of downloads and a view operation from the HP. Obviously this crashed both his HP and MyBook since they no longer had juice.  No biggie, he assumed, as this happens and usually there is no problem.  Well on this occasion, once power returned it turned out to be a big deal.  Once power returned, he rebooted the MyBook and the HP to find a mysterious clicking from the case.  Not good.  For some reason the HP’s hard drive during the sudden power loss had caused most likely a misalignment of the platters which now is clicking.  Drive is hosed at this point, as the cost to get this fixed is not worth the effort.

Booting up the MyBook revealed that the write & read ops had corrupted the file system with a sudden power loss.  Sad face.  There are some disk tools which I suggested to try to recover some of the media, but unfortunately that process is timely and he most likely will lose some data.  This all could have been prevented with a few simple redundancies and planning.

The Fix and Recommendation for others:

First of all, lets look at the HP box.  My first recommendation for the HP box would be to purchase a cheap hard drive with a similar capacity or a bit larger to stick in the case to use as a backup device.  Something like a Western Digital 500GB should suffice.  Why an internal drive?  Because an external drive introduces more variables.  You then have USB disconnects possible, the enclosure breaking, if its not a self powered drive, losing power on that, etc.  Once you have that usb drive, you can use something like Windows built in backup software or a more robust software solution (see this article).

After you have your OS backup plan in place, then consider power backup.  I LOVE MY UPS.  If you have a brown out, or a momentary power loss, you wont crash.  If power goes out for an extended period of time, it will allow you to shut things down cleanly, or automatically if you buy the right UPS.  I love my CyberPower CP1500A, it has saved me on multiple occasions where a quick power outage would have normally crashed my HTPC.  Yes, $166 dollars may be a bit of cash for a redundancy plan, but if you care about your media than it’s not a bad idea.  It also allows for USB connection back to your PC or Mac and you can configure either to auto shutdown after X interval if on battery power.

My final notes on backup plans would be this:  If you have a RAID capable of RAID1, or RAID5, or RAID6… USE IT.  RAID0 is great for getting you the best performance and capacity, but honestly, you don’t need best performance for using as a media storage drive.  You want redundancy.  Doesn’t matter whether it’s a NAS, DAS, or what it is… Use your RAID redundancy.

Any questions? 🙂


Edit:  To elaborate a little more thoroughly (thanks Charles!) RAID is more of a redundancy, than a backup method.  RAID wont last through a fire, it’s just an extra redundancy to keep your data safe.  It’s not a fireproof backup method, just an extra layer of protection so to speak.

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