Friday, August 27, 2010

An Aside: Info on old hard drive can't be recovered!

Well, it's official. All of the information I had on my old XPS 710 hard drive can't be recovered unless I'm willing to pay an arm, leg, several toes and maybe an ear to get it fixed by a RAID 0 recovery specialist.

Of course before this whole catastrophe struck, I had no idea that my hard drive system was a RAID 0, nor did I know what a RAID 0 meant. I'm not very computer savvy, but I'll tell you what...becoming a photographer has definitely forced me to become more technologically sound than I ever thought I could be. I just wish all my new learning didn't come at the cost of so much loss and heartache.

To try to understand exactly what happened with my old computer, I turned to my trusty photo colleague Sean Donnelly who has always been an walking encyclopedia for all things photography/computer/technology related. Sean is definitely a "teacher in the making" because if he can get my feeble brain to understand his techno-babble he can teach anyone!

So my initial system on the XPS 710 was a: RAID 0 which sounds like a good idea on paper. You use 1 or more smaller disks to make 1 bigger one and get a performance gain because it can read from 3 different disks. But there's a big downside. There are now also 3 points of failure for the volume instead of 1, and even though RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, RAID 0 had 0 redundancy. So if a RAID 0 fails, it can not be rebuilt or recovered. Sure, it's a great to have with gaming machines because of the performance increase, but it's a really poor choice for archiving and storing things I care about as a photographer, including contracts, invoices and of course PHOTOS! EEEEK! Two drives acting as one means the chance of losing everything increases with no redundancy in place.

And that's exactly what happened! When my motherboard died in the old XPS rendering me unable to even turn on my computer, the data on my hard drives because virtually unrecoverable. The Geek Squad said I might be able to send to a data recovery service, but it would likely cost me more to recover the data than I spent on it.

Thank God I had just taken the time to backup all of my photos on two new external hard drives. And the most recent shoots I had were still on their original CD cards, so they were easy to recover. Unfortunately, I lost all of my contracts and invoices dating back from 2008 and about 3,000 songs. Most of those contracts were printed, so I can scan them in and resave them.

"I would never put anything I couldn't easily re-install on a RAID 0. Programs that I can re-install or re-download fine. Music, photos, things I can't replace? Never," says Sean.

Of course I went to the manifest for the new Alienware Aurora Dell replaced my old XPS 710 with and discovered I'm cruising for yet another bruising unless I make a change. Yep, it's a 1TB Raid 0 2x 500GB SATA-II, 7,200 RPM, 16MB Cache HDDS. Basically I'm in the same boat even with a new computer!

Sean suggests a couple of options to protect my data.

1) Add an additional 1 TB drive to an empty bay (I have four more empty slots in my Alienware!) and use a Carbon Copy Cloner type of backup to make identical and bootable backups of my RAID 0. That way if it fails, I have an exact clone I can replace it with. This can also be achieved with an external drive.

2) A second option is you could buy 2 more 500GB drives and set up a RAID 1+0 array with the 4 drives. This is basically two RAID 0 arrays mirrored as a RAID 1. In this set up one RAID 0 mirrors the other, so you have redundancy if a drive fails.

3) A third option would be to make a clone type backup to an external drive, convert the two hard drives to a RAID 1 and restore the clone back to the RAID 1.

4) A RAID 1 setup. While it halves the capacity of the disks (ie, if you use 2 1 TB drives you only end up with about 1TB of storage), there is redundancy, so if one of the two drives fails, you simply replace it with a new one and the RAID is rebuilt.

"In any case you definitely want to have some sort of constant clone type of backup for a RAID 0, because while slightly faster, they are a problem waiting to happen," says Sean. "Honestly I would rather have 1 single 1TB drive than a RAID 0. RAID 0 has double the chance to fail with only about a 10% performance gain. Unless hard core gaming is all you use the machine for, it isn't worth the trade-off."

So here's what I'm gonna do: I will get an extra hard drive and then use the Carbon Copy backup since it's the cheapest and easiest one I can work with right now until I can afford something else better. Carbon Copy works for Macs, so I will try Arconis instead for the PC. Arconis does disk imaging (carbon copy clone) and constant backup! Works for me, especially at only $50! Check out this great website to get more tips on how to prevent a hard disk failure. I totally agree that "Prevention is better than a cure!"

I'm loving this system from LaCie. I might consider getting this later on.

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