Storage, Backup Considerations for HTPC

So, you now have a home theater pc (HTPC), and, are building your collection. But what about backup of your HTPC content? Should you use RAID?
As your home theater content grows on your home theater pc, you start to think about what happens if something goes wrong. Perhaps, like me, you are saving a lot of content recorded off of antenna, cable, or satellite. As your collection grows, perhaps into the hundreds of titles, the last thing you want to do is lose it! So, you start to think about how to back up your collection. Many strategies come to mind, including:

  • DVD
  • Time Machine
  • RAID
  • External Drive
  • NAS
  • Tape
  • Removable Media

All of the above strategies can be useful. DVD is a pain as you have to remember to do this, not forget a program, and, take the time to do so. Time Machine is good, as it is automatic so you don’t have to think about it. Raid is good for fault tolerance and the ability to survive a disk failure with a minimum of effort. An external drive of some sort to just copy to is a manual way of backing up, perhaps you might add software to the mix so that is is more automated. NAS is essentially the same idea as an external drive. Tape can be used, you have to remember to backup and keep track of what is stored where. Finally, removable media would be similar to DVD, just disk media of some sort.

In the end, all these sound good, but, don’t forget one thing... They do not address concerns such as theft, fire, or other disasters. So, a thief comes int your house, and steals the HTPC and the attached RAID. Or, a fire burns the house down and you lose your DVD backups, tape, etc.

So, any strategy you use needs to consider these very real threats to your library. I have spent a ton of time building up my library and just cannot accept losing it. There are several techniques that can be used with the above strategies to help against this possibility.

You might decide to simply move the backup to a friends house. Maybe arrange a deal where you store his backups, and he stores yours. This has the slight disadvantage of the hassle of adding to the backup, or his backup. However, if semi-local, it has the advantage of being easy to recover from as well. You just have to remember to keep up with new content.

You might also use a fireproof safe at an external location (fireproof safes do not always keep media from melting, you need to consider this when you use such a plan in your house).

What I decided to do in the end was a combination of techniques. For onsite backup, I use Time Machine. I have almost 1TB of content now (compressed via Handbrake). That makes recovery quite quick should a hard drive fail. However, this doesn’t solve the problem of a fire or theft. For that, I decided to use an online backup service. I started out using MozyHome, however, this became a problem once I started to use external network drives as they are not supported by Mozy. So, I switched to Crashplan which has an unlimited service for home users.

It did take a while (as you might imagine) for all that content to get backed up the first time. Almost 1TB takes a while! A couple of months, mostly running at night on my Comcast cable system. However, the beauty of that is recorded movies and shows never change. So, it’s one time ever! So, when I add a new 2GB movie, it’s no big deal, Crashplan stores it over night, and, the next day, my backup is up to date. Nothing to remember, it just works.

If you arrange for a friend to swap backups with you, Crashplan also has a nice feature where you can store thru the internet to a friends machine, and, he could store across the internet to your machine. Sort of a “free” off-site backup service.

Carefully consider how to backup your content and do what makes sense for you. The same applies to digital photo albums and the like, you would not want to lose your lifetime of photos due to a fire! It’s irreplaceable.

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