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On Computers

Using mirror drive backs up all those terabytes of data

By BOB AND JOY SCHWABACH

This article was published January 13, 2018 at 1:42 a.m.

Over the holidays we visited with a man who sells automated chicken coops. It's an odd business, but somebody has to do it.

But what we thought was really odd was that in the basement of his home in suburban Chicago, he had 6-terabyte disk drives linked together in what the techies call a daisy chain. That means they can all act as one continuous drive as the contents are fed along the pipeline. He uses them to store information for his business, and, oh yeah, movies.

Terabyte drives have become common now; most new computers come with disk drives of one or two of these monster storage capacities. How monster are they? Well, a terabyte is a thousand gigabytes. If you're using it to store books -- let's say an average novel length of 400 pages -- it can hold a little over 700,000 of them. If you could read one every two days you could finish them all in just 4,000 years. This is all a rough calculation, but suffice to say that you should lay in a large store of cheese and crackers.

But our host likes movies, so he downloads and stores them. This is not an unusual thing, many people store movies on a disk drive. You can fit about 500 hours of movies on a terabyte drive. If they average 1.5 hours running time, that's 330 movies with plenty left over for the kids' cartoons.

So we got a 2-terabyte drive. Why take half measures? It was sent in for review anyway. It contains two separate 1 terabyte drives, both in the same case. It weighs 2.7 pounds. With this, we have enough storage for 660 movies and some commentary from Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz.

That seems a bit silly, and it is. But such a drive has uses well beyond entertainment; you can store all the data from a pretty good-size business. But what if the drive goes down? Uh-oh.

For several years this column ran in the Bangkok Post -- Bangkok, Thailand. We didn't put it there, they asked for it. So one day, Bob got a call from a guy at the Post, and he said: "Do you know how to get the data back from a drive that stopped working?" The back story was that they used Macs and Apple drives and everything went so smoothly they never backed anything up. Oops.

Now there are services that will try to collect data from a dead drive, but there's no guarantee, and they don't deliver in time for next morning's newspaper. So this OWC 2-terabyte drive -- and other brands as well -- can be used in any of several modes. But the crucial one of those is called mirroring.

This is what any business should have. A mirror drive simply stores a copy of whatever you sent to the main drive. It does this in real time, and there you have it. It's not guaranteed perfect protection, but the chances of two disk drives failing at the same time are very, very small. The price for having this protection also runs low: The OWC Mercury Elite Pro we have costs $129, other makes are similarly priced. Remember: You're allowed to lose your head, but not your data.

WHO OWNS IT?

We get interesting questions from readers, and maybe the most interesting one we ever got was "Who owns the software?"

The reader pointed out that he pays $100 a year for Microsoft Office on five computers, five phones and five tablets. This entitles him to upgrades whenever they come out and to call technical support. He said he doesn't care about the upgrades and he doesn't need technical support. Bob feels the same way, but can you get out of it?

Software used to be sold in boxes, as a package. You bought it and you owned it. This was fine with our reader, us and practically everybody else in the known universe. But it wasn't fine with Microsoft and other software houses. Because once they sold it, you owned it. End of story. This was not conducive to ongoing revenue. Several years ago many of these companies adopted a new business model, which they called "software as a service." Now you don't own it; you just lease it. This meant a continual revenue stream coming in, and once you have that you can borrow against it; you can sell bonds, take out mortgages. It's called financial engineering.

So to get to the big question: If you stop paying that annual lease fee, can they, the makers, turn off your program? When Joy tried to cancel auto-renew, she got a Microsoft warning that she would lose access to her Office apps, her Skype minutes and 1 terabyte of storage space. If you're a business user, it's worse: You can still view and print documents, but can no longer edit them after 90 days.

NUMBERS REPORT

How fast can a bitcoin transaction go? Seven transactions per second. Ethereum can handle 15 transactions per second. But Amazon has handled 600 transactions a second during big sales days. Rumor has it that Amazon has purchased several websites for dealing in cryptocurrencies.

INTERNUT

"Things People Said, Courtroom Quotations." Search on that phrase to find some hilarious remarks by lawyers and witnesses. For example: Lawyer: "Was that the same nose you broke as a child?" Witness: "I only have one, you know." Or how about an accused thief defending his own case and cross-examining a witness: "Did you get a good look at my face when I stole your purse?" He got 10 years to think about that.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at bobschwa@gmail.com and joydee@oncomp.com.

Business on 01/13/2018

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