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The best storage devices smart money should buy
The vast bulk of the world’s computer data was created over the past couple of years. In 2013 this figure stood reportedly at 90% and today pundits estimate that the 3.7 billion folks online in 2017, create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily. All this information must be catalogued and stored for posterity, right? But a server is only as good as its storage drive. This article is all about helping you choose the right storage device for your specific needs.
Examine your needs
Essentially, you must first distinguish between the drive’s intended location and purpose.
1) is this a drive you intend to install into your computer (usually for the purpose of installing the operating system and programmes) or is it a drive you plan to have as a stand-alone memory or external hard drive? If external, do you need it available on the go (in which case you should opt for an SSD such as the Samsung Portable SSD T5 500GB) or is the drive going to live in your office (if so, WD 4 TB My Book Desktop Hard Drive is a solid choice)? Alternatively, if speed is not a top priority, you could choose accessibility, with wifi-enhanced WD 4 TB My Cloud Personal Cloud Storage.
2) What will be the drive’s function—will it primarily be used for rapid fire working files or for backup archive storage?
Finally, consider your budget, as an SSD is about four time pricier than an HDD.
In this day and age, we advise you to opt for a hybrid drive or a full SSD (read our review about SSDs here). A hybrid drive or solid-state hybrid drives (SSHD) combines the fast features of an SSD such as NAND flash with the robust storage capacity of a hard disk drive (HDD) within the same unit. The purpose of combining a large hard disk drive and an SSD cache is to improve performance by speeding up access to frequently accessed data. There are two ways of configuring a hybrid system: 1) installing an SSHD, a specialised drive that combines the best of the SSD and the HDD worlds in a single piece of hardware. The drive ‘learns’ how to prioritize data access through a built-in application (self-optimized mode) or is guided by the operating system (host-hinted mode) or 2) install two physically separate drives, i.e. an SSD and an HDD and instruct them to work in unison. In this configuration, optimization is arranged manually by the end user or automatically by the operating system.
Western Digital makes the process of selecting a drive rather straightforward—the devices are colour-graded.
|Western Digital WD40E31X 4 TB Hybrid Hard Drive – Blue is dependent storage for routine office work computers.|
|WD 4 TB Performance Hard Drive – Black is for performance and demanding tasks such as video editing, 3d rendering and gaming.|
|Western Digital 4 TB Hard Drive – Gold is for enterprise and networks.|
|WD Pro 4 TB NAS Hard Drive – Red is purpose-built, with NASware 3.0 technology, to balance performance and reliability in NAS and RAID environments.|
|WD 3.5" SATA 6Gb/s 4TB HDD – Purple label drives are specifically for the extreme demands of high temperature, 24/7 surveillance systems and are optimised to support up to 64 cameras.|
The evolution of storage devices is in perpetual flux and over the past decade, HDDs have experienced increasingly stiff competition from SSDs, which are quieter, shock-resistant, more efficient and much, much faster. You can read our article about the Samsung T5, one of the hottest SSDs on the market today HERE.
HDDs are rugged pieces of hardware by design. If used properly, i.e. protected from shock, electrical surges and excessive heat, they are designed to run for many, many years. In this arena, reliability vastly eclipses even attributes such as speed and performance. Hence, numerous multiple checks and balances have been introduced, to ensure that HDDs do not fail outright. Yet, there are exceptions and a few drives do crash with no return. Backblaze, one of the industry’s leaders in data storage, has consistently published a quarterly report featuring statistics and insights based on the hard drives in their centre, since 2013. The brands most commonly featured are Western Digital, Hitachi/HGST, Seagate and Toshiba. By reviewing their data samples, we found HGST to be the most reliable brand and Seagate to be the brand most prone to failure. However, over the years, we have had two Touro drives (a sub-brand of HGST) fail in our office, so we switched to Western Digital with consistently excellent results.
Insurance policy against data loss
We have established that when it comes to storage devices, reliability is a crucial attribute. When picking a drive brand and capacity for your computer, it is wise to review failure rates and independent tests performed by tech-focused research labs.
But regardless of the statistical probability, any drive can fail at any given time. Yes, the longer it serves, the greater chance of failure, but it can also fail right out of the box. Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take to insulate yourself from such cataclysmic, potentially business-ending shocks.
RAID storage, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks is a popular choice. Originally, the “I” in RAID stood for “inexpensive”, but that’s beside the point. What is important is how the arrangement can protect you from data loss, which occurs as a result of unrecoverable failure of a storage device. Essentially, RIAD is a marriage of multiple physical disks into one or several logical units.
Depending upon the target level of performance, security, capacity, availability and redundancy, there are several standardised configurations for data distribution across the units, known in computer science as RAID Levels. The most common varying data distribution levels include:
- RAID 0: focuses on maximizing the resources, but provides no protection against unrecoverable sector read errors or complete drive failures. Since there is no mirroring or parity, there is no backup. However, the capacity of a RAID 0 system is the aggregate of units tethered in the set and its throughput is the multiple of their number. The drawback is that data is disseminated across the drives in fairly equal proportion and while this maximizes performance, it also makes this system extremely vulnerable to drive failures—if one drive fails, it renders all of the data corrupted and unrecoverable.
- RAID 1: this popular array comprises a minimum of 2 drives, to which data is written in an identical stream, without parity or striping. This is known as a mirrored set, the primary benefit of which is that even if one drive fails, the other drive will have all the information preserved intact, making recovery a cinch.
There are RAID configurations from level 0 to 6 and modified arrangements such as RAID 0+1, 0+3, 10+0 etc. but we will not go in to those here. The above two configurations are the most accessible and appropriate for SMEs.
RAID business solutions
For SMEs engaged in complicated computations, such as rendering and visualisation design projects (e.g. architect bureaus, advertising agencies) or animation, video editing and production, we recommend:
LaCie 2Big Dock Thunderbolt 3 12TB — though pricey, it is a worthwhile investment in the security of your work. It will also streamline your workflow, as it is built with performance in mind, featuring a USB 3.0 port and Thunderbolt 3 tech.
If, however, your company deals primarily with legal, accounting, editing or retail work, there is hardly a need for such a robust device.
In this scenario, we recommend the much more moderately-priced:
|WD 4 TB My Cloud Mirror Personal Cloud Storage — text documents and spreadsheets are small in size and this device is very capable and convenient to use, featuring wifi tech, allowing you to access and share all your important files through your computer, tablet and smartphone from wherever you have an internet connection. At The Cornerstones of World Business, this is our drive of choice.|
|For a budget solution, you could purchase the case and drives separately. Just pick up the RAIDON GR3660-B3 RAID Subsystem for 2x 3.5 inch SATA HDD and insert a couple of WD Reds of your choice (just keep in mind that they must be of equal capacity). With 2x WD 2 TB NAS Hard Drive - Red this entire arrangement would cost in the neighbourhood of 250 EUR, rather than nearly 350 if you opt for the ready-out-of-the-box WD My Cloud Mirror above. ◼︎|
—Oleg K Temple, January 2018