External hard drives are unreliable

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

THESE days, you can get as high as four terabytes of external hard disk drive (HDD) space for all your multimedia hoarding needs. Obviously, with so much stuff downloaded from the Internet — from your picture albums to your music collection to high definition movies — you need an extra storage to all of that and not let them clog up your main computer.

Even professionals such graphic designers, photographers, sound engineers and film producers constantly need a several teras of storage memory to keep up with the growing data. It's amazing how such expandable storage can make our lives much easier.

But no matter what brand or how expensive your external hard drives are, there's no guarantee that they would protect all your data forever. In fact, complete and catastrophic loss of data is very common with all external hard drives. There's no way to avoid it.

A couple of weeks ago, my one terabyte Western Digital MyBook external hard drive failed me. It was entirely damaged due to a brownout at home. Considering that it was hooked on my desktop PC and not through a laptop, it couldn't survive the power outage.

I certainly learned my lesson. I should've used a surge protector. It would've been a simple and cheap solution that could've prevented a hundred dollar disaster (the disk was completely damaged and unusable).

But this isn't the first time I've gone through a hard drive failure incident. I've owned five portable USB hard drives over the past seven years, and all five of them have failed unrecoverably. When I was in college, I lost an important report which was due in a couple of days, as it was stored in an external hard drive that failed for no reason.

As I mentioned, all hard drives fail, whether internal or external. Problems with the power grid, dying power supplies, viruses, and mechanical failure are some of the most common. And if your computer is stolen or lost in a fire or some other disaster, an external hard drive will be lost, too.

It's happened on devices from small, pocket-size drives to massive multi-hundred-gigabyte drives. Though data is recoverable if taken to a forensic data recovery service, it's a costly procedure.

Over the years, I've always come back for external HDDs believing that vendors will continuously improve and make the drives better and more reliable over time. Sadly, there has been no sign of progress. What is the point of still selling them in stores when I know that they are bound to fail? After so much frustrations, I realised that I'm done with them, and I'm looking for other storage options.

Sure, they may impress us with faster data transfer speeds such as the speedier USB 3.0 or Intel's superfast Thunderbolt connection, or even a much reinforced enclosure. But the fact still remains; it's the same unreliable spinning platter inside all over again.

My only remaining faith right now is on Solid State Drives (SSDs). SSDs have appeared in many ultraportable laptops and tablets these days and have proven to be more reliable, faster and also much smaller than conventional hard drives. But they can't be fully trusted either as they are still vulnerable to catastrophic data loss without any warning. At least the impact is minimal, especially if they are handled with great amount of care.

In addition, SSDs have yet to reach the capacity of terabytes that conventional hard drives currently hold; the maximum such as the ioSafe Rugged Portable SSD topped at only a measly 512GB. Also, SSDs are twice as expensive as regular HDD at the moment. Perhaps in a couple of years, we would see a price drop and an increase in capacity.

I think the best solution moving forward would be not rely on physical drives at all and move towards the cloud. With so many online backup services available today, it's easy to set up and manage, and one less electronic device to worry about in your workstation as everything is consolidated in thin air.

Meanwhile, media streaming services will take over downloaded media files that we have accustomed to for many years. Soon you're no longer downloading music and movies to your computer. You'll be streaming them from the Internet so the need for a high capacity external drives is no longer necessary by then.

The only issue with cloud storage solution is security as your files are outside the confinement of your own system (Servers can fail too). It will really depend on how reliable the security of the service is, and what kind of data you want to consolidate in the cloud. Nevertheless, this is the way of the future.

But all this cloud solutions can only be possible with faster and more reliable connectivity.

In a matter of months, we're going to have Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) and Wimax (4G) connection. By then, I'd spend my mobile storage money on monthly payments to my online backup service, and say goodbye to the misery that is external hard drives once and for all.

The views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the views of The Brunei Times.

The Brunei Times

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