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Macon Chronicle-Herald - Macon, MO
Opinion from the technical trenches.
Backup and Storage (3)
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About this blog
By Robert Handley
Kirksville native, laborer, filmmaker, sailor, technologist. I've had an interest in how things work since childhood and today making things work is my job description. I'm an IT generalist/consultant and database developer, and for the last ...
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Kirksville native, laborer, filmmaker, sailor, technologist. I've had an interest in how things work since childhood and today making things work is my job description. I'm an IT generalist/consultant and database developer, and for the last several years I've concentrated on simplifying and securing small business technology. I intend that complexity stay inside the machine, and that your experience outside it be productive and pleasant. When you make technology decisions there are many sources for information and advice, but it's sometimes overwhelming to sift through. So I'll render fact, opinion and personal experience into palatable portions that I hope you'll find helpful. I'm not a tech evangelist, rather I play a balancing act, because it's easy to collect a closet full of expensive, planet killing junk. Please stay tuned...
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June 29, 2012 12:01 a.m.



Backup and Storage (3)







 




Storage Types...




 




Storage 2 addressed the need to backup our gadgets, devices and computers. Convenience for some, necessity for others and for the most casual user, perhaps unnecessary. But for most of us, business or personal, a lot useful stuff is contained in our devices, and losing it can be a big pain. 




 




Hard Drives: The Device Component That Just Keeps Going and Giving Until...




 




Unless you have a new Macbook or Windows Ultrabook, your computer probably stores its data stuff on a conventional, spinning platter hard drive, a technology almost as old as the big bang. We've come a long way (per Moore's law) toward improving this component, but almost all of the basic design principles have survived for decades. 




 




A conventional hard drive serves up our data stuff much like sandwich building from a Lazy Susan; first we spin the platter to bring a bun within reach, pluck it onto our plate, then spin again for a burger and fetch it, then spin for each condiment until our custom sandwich is fully formed, then we eat it it. The conventional hard drive has a platter too, only instead of sandwich parts it holds tiny, discrete magnetic parts, or data bits. The platter spins, and a tiny pickup (think Kristen Wiig’s tiny hand) reaches out and takes whatever bit is needed, moves to another position and repeats the process, until the file we want (picture, music track, etc.) is fully formed, then we use it. 




 




Let's say that your hard drive platter is divided into a million sections, although in reality there are many more. Every night is oldie's night at Rich McKinney's house (when he's not serving up a gourmet meal or writing Community Choir music), and tonight he's watching Casablanca, downloaded from Amazon and recorded on his hard drive. During download his movie was scattered to various locations all over the platter, but the opening bit is in section 1001. When Rich decides to watch the movie his computer tells the spinning disk to reference an index, the index finds the location of Casablanca on the spinner, and the tiny pickup moves to position 1001... curtain up! In the process of watching the pickup device will move to many different positions, re-assembling the scattered, out of order pieces into an orderly flow. Presto, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, et al, do their thing, and Rich didn't notice or care that fantastic technology was silently performing underneath his view.




 




It's a clever mechanism and not much more complicated than it sounds. Spinner drives can hold a great many data sandwiches in a package about half the size of a cigarette pack (for a laptop). Desktop hard drives are larger but operate on exactly the same principle. Spinning drives are unfortunately volatile, prone to injury by shock and heat, so they won't last forever. Like tires on a car or shingles on a roof, time and use will eventually destroy them. Laptop drives are particularly vulnerable because they're often jostled about while spinning, so even a modest bump can destroy one, and with it an entire collection of carefully constructed data sandwiches. 




 




The world runs on spinning hard drives, just like the ones in our compuers. I wasn't able to find any definitive numbers, but somewhere between 1 and 10 million servers are thought run Google alone (old numbers), and each of these devices might control many hard drives. The failure rate of spinners is high, somewhere around 2-3 years per drive, so Google is trashing and replacing them at a fantastic rate. Plus, Google is just one small piece of the world's data delivery puzzle.




 




As a side note, consider the energy cost for using Google, or any other internet service: our computers consume electricity, roughly $30/year for a desktop, as little as $1.35 for an iPad and somewhere in between for laptops. Then add all wire, fiber optics, satellites, offices, etc., that connect us to Google's data centers, the power required to send/receive our requests and return them (the equivalent to running a 60 watt light bulb for 17 seconds per search).  Add the chemicals and precious metals used in manufacturing, and it adds up to an extraordinary resource footprint for each gadget. An article published in Time Magazine way back in September, 2011 estimated that Google's data centers alone consumed enough power to run 200,000 average homes. 




 




Credit where due, Google, Microsoft and many other data providers believe in global warming, after all they are scientists, many have children and, therefore, take more than a casual interest in future beyond their lifetimes.  So these companies are spending big bucks to become carbon neutral, and I'm not just talking about silly carbon offsets, I’m talking substantial, renewable, cost saving, planet saving sun-sucking energy. These scientist/designers know that when an individual starts a car and/or runs a device, the planet heats up a little, and as the entire world turns on an increasing number of devices and cars the planet heats up a lot.  Record summer of 2012 anyone?




 




Ingenuity, the Industrial Revolution, and now the Information Revolution no doubt contribute to the destruction of our fragile planet, but the intelligence gained from that cost is perhaps the only hope of saving it. Pick your poison, but personally I hope we utilize information and intelligence to figure it out, because I love my gadgets and all the data sandwich stuff contained therein. 




 




In the next post I’ll address a fantastic, new storage solution, available to all right now, that has zero moving parts, is largely invulnerable to shock and uses less electricity. All the discrete bits we need to watch Casablanca are still necessary, but they're now stored in tiny fixed chunks, rather than on spinning platters. They're called Solid State Drives, or SSDs.




 






Feel free to offer topic suggestions.  Commenting on the blog would be great, let’s get some discussions going.  Or, if you don’t want to comment and have a topic suggestion, please email: kdegeneralist@gmail.com




 




My Web Site:  www.thegeneralistweb.com




 




PS:  Please support Wikipedia.




 

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