Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link A cautionary tale about maintaining data at home

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I rely on Phanfare to safeguard my photos and videos. They live happily in the cloud, in their original sizes and quality and I access them from wherever I need. I strongly believe in cloud computing. I think personal computers (Windows and Mac OS) are difficult to maintain, overly complicated devices that expose too much complexity to the user.

A personal computer is best as an internet terminal, replaceable with a different computer as needed, provided you install the necessary software. And I believe in the long run most consumers won’t buy general purpose computers. But we live in the here and now.

I am not 100% converted to cloud computing in my personal life yet. There is lots of legacy stuff I setup years ago. At home I have a Mac Pro desktop with 3 drives running the latest version of Leopard. Two of the drives were purchased about 3 years ago at the exact same time: 450 GB Western Digital SATA drives. I installed them in my Mac Pro (the Pro has 4 bays) and setup a software RAID 1 (full mirror).

On my personal RAID I keep my iPhoto library (I sometimes use iPhoto as part of my workflow), my iTunes collection, in progress iMovie projects and a VMWare Windows XP instance.

Well, I got back from a business trip to find that I had basically lost the whole RAID. The RAID was not mounted. I rebooted and it mounted. I checked on it in Disk Utility and found that one of the drives were marked FAILED and the other was marked S.M.A.R.T. failure, which is a early warning system built into drives telling you it is about to fail. The RAID was marked “degraded,” which means not providing redundancy, and some information in the Disk Utility interface recommended that I replace the one drive that was hanging on and move the data ASAP. I tried, but got errors when copying the files.

So I lost all the data. No big deal. The music is on an iPod, although a few months of ITMS purchases are not synched. The photos I care about are all on Phanfare and the VMWare instance is just a standard XP config with MS Office and some other files.

But I was really trying to NOT to lose that data. I had a RAID, the drives were fairly new, the home office is climate controlled, the computer is rarely moved, we have smoke alarms and heat sensors and the computer is on a UPS to protect it from vagaries in the power grid. And yet I lost it all.

Morale of the story: Keep your stuff in the cloud. I am going to find a service that will keep my iTunes collection (anyone have experience with mp3tunes.com?) in the cloud. And I am going to finally pull the trigger and stop maintaining personal files like tax records on home servers (that is not my only RAID- the other one is a DELL HW RAID in the basement waiting for a flood).

I tried Jungle Disk and it looks pretty good. Jungle disk is a SW layer that sits atop Amazon S3 and lets you store your files on S3 and pay only Amazon’s rates for storage and bandwidth. (Note that I don’t think the average consumer needs the complexity of Jungle Disk and personal S3 accounts, but some of the underlying applications I use don’t yet have good enough online services).

If I can’t manage to keep my data intact at home, I suspect you can’t either and frankly, why try? There is simply no comparison with the type of monitoring, redundancy and security you can get from an online service versus rolling your own in your basement.

  • Thomas Hawk
  • Will

    Ew… sorry to hear that, Andrew. Bummer.

    I gave JungleDisk a try. I haven’t used it since they released that new software update, though. My only real impression (aside from that the software was a little confusing at first… which is supposed to be remedied) is that backing up my files took a LONG time. I mean… I expected it, but it was still frustrating.

    I think the key to cloud computing is the illusion of locality. I remember you writing about how the beauty of the Phanfare desktop clients was the way that the photos and videos “feel” local even though they are stored on your servers. I agree that’s a great part and it’s so nice not to have to worry about whether or not I have a file on my computer or not. I recently even gave the integrated Picnik editing a try and was really impressed. It was a snap. I clicked “edit in picnik”, the photo showed up there and when I was done editing, it took me back to Phanfare and I could see the edited file there.

    I think one limitation, however, is that there are still quite a few things which cannot be done to the file after it has already been uploaded to Phanfare. For example, I can’t change the filename. If I wanted to do something as simple as change the filename I have to download the file, change it on my desktop, and re-upload it. That seems like a rather inefficient use of bandwidth. Another example is if I wanted to add IPTC metadata to a file. Again, I would need to download in, change it and re-upload it. In both this case and the case of re-naming the file, only a few bytes or kilobytes are being changed, but the whole file has to be downloaded and uploaded.

    My point is that I’d like to upload once and only once. As it is, I’m realizing that if I want my image descriptions to travel with the file wherever they go (as in if I ever left Phanfare… or if I simply wanted to share a file on another photo-sharing site), I’d have to add the description to the IPTC data before uploading. What if Phanfare could simply write that metadata into my file for me whenever I add a description to a photo within Phanfare? What if I had the ability to rename my meaningless image filenames to something significant like its date from within Phanfare? Sorry for harping on this theme!

  • Brad

    Backing up at home is such a simple thing to do, but most people are too lazy or not disciplined enough. I would succumb to the laziness in a heartbeat if Amazon were cheap enough, but it’s not. My MP3 collection, photos and data are a little over 200GB. That would cost $30/month on S3 plus the initial bandwidth hit (and time) to get it there. I can buy a drive to back all of that up. I sync it once at home and then keep it at work synced over the line with Mesh. Amazon has a fantastic service, but I don’t need to be paying for three or more copies of my files in their datacenter when it is merely a backup for me. The added plus is that I have local speed access of all of my file at home or work and I pay no monthly fee that I’m not already paying (ISP).

  • Marc

    Have you tried Spinrite from GRC.com? Its well worth the $90, I had it save several hard disks that appeared dead. I use Mozy as a backup and also an external USB. I keep multiple computer synced with foldermatch (free). I’ve also tried Sugarsync which will store all you items in the “cloud” and then sync to all your PC’s. Good luck!

  • Steven

    If disaster recovery is your goal, I would suggest Mozy. The price is $4.95 a month (I believe) for unlimited storage. The upload pipe is small, so many GB may take days or even a week to upload, but then after that it is just the differential.

    Carbonite also does a decent job, but there are two things I like better about Mozy. 1) Mozy supports external hard drives and Carbonite does not (as of this writing). 2) Mozy works better for restoring individual files or directories, to my mind.

    Oh yeah – important since you have a Mac – Mozy has a Mac client. Important since you said you are running a Mac. (I have a Mac and a PC and Mozy works on both my rigs.)

    Bear in mind, neither Mozy nor Carbonite are meant to online storage in the sense that you have easy access to your files online nor are they meant for online sharing. They really are meant more for backup/restore.

    Good luck.

  • Joseph

    Add my vote for Mozy. I never even know it is running until I need some revised file from months ago. Great system, however recovery of an entire computer is not a drag/drop operation.

    I’m experimenting now with a new system called Drop Box, which synchronizes data between multiple computers and stores the information, with all revisions, on Amazon S3 servers. No pricing has been issued yet, however I have a few 2gb beta test licenses available is anyone needs one. It reminds me of Phanfare on my two Macs, with easy sync of my photos.

    The new Mobile Me system has peaked my interest and we’ll see what the Apple folks have planned later this week.

    Andrew, thank you for the 2.0 changes and continuing to upgrade Phanfare. I consider it a “must have” on all of my computers.

  • Hans

    Rather than Mozy or Carbonite I went with a 1tb Time Capsule and a 1tb drive (I got it from Other World Computing) that holds a SuperDuper sparseimage of my drive. I keep the drive at my office and the TC at home. I figure between two different technologies and drives I should be safe. Plus I can avoid any potential privacy invasions with an online service.

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Thanks for all your suggestions. I have tried Mozy and found it was not reliable enough for me. I dont really want a backup system, I want services to replace my home servers. So Jungle disk is a more attractive solution to me.

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