A few weeks ago, I wrote about uncluttering your computer’s file system, and several of you left some great comments about how you have incorporated external storage into your setup.
External storage isn’t just for techies with massive drives full of music, movies, and software. It’s essential for backing up files, or for simply getting older files that you need to keep out of the way. For those of you who haven’t used external storage before today, I’ll offer a brief overview to get you started.
First, the cold hard truth. Computer hard drives fail. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Since they are guaranteed to fail, neglecting to back up your data is one of the quickest routes to an uncluttered computer — but the reality is that it makes about as much sense as uncluttering your home by burning it to the ground. If you’re maintaining an uncluttered file system, you’ve kept files for a reason. Just as we suggest honoring mementos, you should honor the digital files that you don’t delete by keeping them safe.
External storage is also a great way to keep older files from cluttering your search results. I like to archive projects that are over a year old and keep them off of my primary hard drive. This reduces the number of results that come up when I search for files, and also keeps my internal hard drive from becoming full. I also keep all photography and other media files on external storage.
These are the simplest of the external storage options. A Firewire/USB drive consists of a normal computer hard drive enclosed in a case that includes Firewire and/or USB connectors. You just plug it in to your computer, and drag-and-drop files to it just like any other folder. Drives like Western Digital’s My Book include one-touch backup to make safeguarding files simple, and smaller USB-powered drives like the Passport let you take lots of files with you without the clutter of extra power cables.
There’s a trade-off for such simplicity, however. External drives, like internal drives, are subject to failure. You should still back up files that you store on an external drive, unless you use the external drive itself only for backup.
Network Attached Storage Devices
Where Firewire/USB drives connect directly to your computer, a network attached storage (NAS) device connects to your home network via a router. Though integrating a NAS into your storage setup adds the complexity of home networking, the additional flexibility can be worth the effort. NAS devices vary from single drives, to multiple drives that offer the benefit of data redundancy; if one drive fails, you can replace it without losing any data.
For my personal storage needs, I invested in a ReadyNAS NV+ loaded with four 750 GB Seagate drives configured in a RAID array. If that seems complicated, it’s much simpler than the half dozen USB drives I’d filled with files, photos and my CDs. If it weren’t for the NAS, I’d have power and USB cables everwhere — talk about clutter!
If you’re comfortable handling hard drives, and don’t need so much storage right away, you can buy your NAS without drives, then get your drives from someplace like NewEgg and install them as you need them. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to install at least two drives to take advantage of drive redundancy.
You’ve got to love the internet. The ubiquity of broadband internet, and declining data storage and bandwidth costs have finally made backing up files online a cost effective alternative to network attached storage. Pricing structures vary among online storage services, but generally a relatively small monthly fee gets you access to enterprise class data centers where your files are protected by the same hardware and geographic redundancy that businesses use to protect their valuable data. The services available are too numerous to list here, but some popular options for you to check out include Mozy, XDrive, Box.net, and Carbonite.
One of my favorite online storage tools is Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk isn’t an online storage service itself, but a program that lets you store and retrieve files on Amazon’s Simple Storage Service just like an external drive on your computer. Jungle Disk is a free download, and you pay Amazon for only the storage space and bandwidth that you use.
If you’ve got a favorite storage or backup solution, please share it with us in the comments!
We hope that everyone has enjoyed Brian’s three-part series on data organization. Brian is one of Unclutterer’s amazing programmers, and we are so happy that he agreed to write this series during our March month of sharing. Thank you, Brian!