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Storage options for the digital generation


Washington : Just about everything in our lives is being stored digitally today – music, videos, photographs, documents, arts and crafts, and much more.

That’s why the scramble for more data storage – and more versatile data storage – is never-ending. The market has responded with a proliferation of types of data storage designed to meet the needs of everyone.

But the options are dizzying.

To keep from making a costly mistake when buying storage, you need to know what your storage needs are and which type of storage best satisfies those requirements.

Backup storage

What type of storage you choose for back ups should be determined by how much you have to back up.

A good rule of thumb is to have at least twice as much backup storage space as you currently have in potential data to be backed up.

The operative word here is “potential.”

If you have a 500-gigabyte (GB) hard drive in your computer but only 320 GB worth of data, don’t think that at some point you won’t fill that 500 GB hard drive almost to the max.

Thus, consider 1 terabyte (TB) of backup storage the minimum you should have if the PC you need to back up contains a 500 GB hard drive.

The reason: you’ll undoubtedly use that backup drive not only to safeguard the data on your 500 GB hard drive; you’ll probably also want to store additional files there.

For backing up a single computer, a standard external hard drive is probably the best – and easiest – solution today.

You can purchase external hard drives from any computer store, or you can build one yourself by buying a hard drive and an external enclosure and assembling the two.

If you have more than one computer to back up, however, your backup storage demands will increase dramatically.

Multi-computer households could easily be looking at backup storage needs in the 2 – 4 TB range.

And for that kind of storage space, your best option today is probably Microsoft’s Windows Home Server.

Home Server is a Windows operating system that is typically sold along with a “headless” computer – one without a monitor – and filled with one or more hard drives.

Once attached to your home network and configured, the computer backs up all attached computers overnight.

Because Home Server runs in what amounts to a typical home computer, your storage expansion options are limited only by the number of available hard drive slots or external drives attached to the home server box.

Durable storage

If you want to store data and feel relatively secure that it won’t disappear in a system meltdown, avoid spinning disks. That means that hard drives are out.

Instead, look to flash memory-based devices, such as USB keys, CD or DVD disks, or even tape.

If you’re looking at CD or DVD disks as your durable storage solution, prefer those that are rated as “archival.”

That’s because not all CD or DVD disks are made the same.

Archival disks use a higher quality reflective layer and protective seal on the data side of the disk, which protects not only against data-destroying scratches but also ensures longer shelf life for the disks.

Companies such as TDK and Verbatim sell disks specifically for archival purposes.

Store the data away from your primary data storage area, too. If your computer falls victim to theft or fire, for example, you don’t want your backup media to meet the same fate.

Regardless of the media you choose, be sure to store your devices out of sunlight, in a cool, dry place.

If you intend to store CDs or DVDs for a long time, place them in acid-free plastic containers; doing so will extend the life of the disks over other methods of storage.

Shared storage

If you’d like a convenient way to share storage among two or more computers, Windows Home Server will fit the bill.

In addition to acting as a backup device, the Home Server computer will have shared folders that are accessible to everyone on a home network.

These shared folders can even be accessed over the Internet, thanks to a free domain that all Home Server owners receive.

Another option is a network attached storage (NAS) device. NAS devices are small boxes that hold one or more hard drives and connect to your network with a standard ethernet cable.

They can be used for backup purposes as well.

NAS devices often have built-in RAID support, which ensures that any data copied to it will be stored twice in the event that one copy is lost to a hard drive failure or other catastrophe.

NAS devices run anywhere from just over $100 to more than a thousand, depending upon the amount of storage they can hold and whether they are RAID-capable.

If you’re considering a NAS unit, it will be worth your while to shop around at an online vendor to see the various models available – and, if possible, to read user reviews to get an idea of the issues previous buyers have encountered in setting up a NAS device.