Thursday, May 31, 2007

Comments on David Pogue Article

David Pogue is not a computer nerd. I mean this neither as a compliment nor an insult, just a statement of fact. I mention it because when reviewing computer "things" his mind set is different from that of a computer nerd.

Mr. Pogue plays with toys and writes about it. This is certainly useful, as far as it goes. I read his columns and have learned things from them. But without an IT background, Mr. Pogue is limited in what he can add to the discussion above and beyond what is in front of him. That is, he can't put things into perspective. It's one thing to say what a device or service or software is, but quite another to say when/where/how to use it. (I can describe a scalpel, but you don't want me operating on your appendix).

With this in mind, let me try to put his article in today's New York Times, The Cartridge, Updated, Catches Up to Data, in perspective.

The article reviewed three removable cartridge devices that are fast and hold lots of data. In general he liked the devices but felt the cartridges were too expensive.

What he failed to mention is that each of these removable cartridge drives is a single point of failure. That is, if the drive itself dies, you lose access to all your data.

Experience tells us that computer backup devices have a limited shelf life. It is all but guaranteed that in a year or two none of the devices he wrote about will still be on the market. And, it goes without saying, that hardware breaks. So anyone planning on depending on these things, needs to buy two - one for now and one for the future when they can't be replaced.
In addition, the drives should be stored in different physical locations.

And if you are really going to depend on them, a case can be made that you need to buy three drives. In other words, you need to treat the backup hardware itself just like the data. Backup. Backup. Backup.

Switching focus to the cartridges, two of them have no track record. Mr. Pogue mentions the "click of death" that haunted previous backup devices from Iomega and notes that their current product, the Rev, seems to have stood the test of time. An excellent point and one that should make anyone wary of the two newer products.

If one of the newer products sounds appealing, let me suggest making a couple phone calls. DriveSavers and OnTrack are the companies of last resort when it comes to extracting data off hard disks. Call them to see if they will extract data from a Rev, GoVault or RDX cartridge. If not . . .

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Almightyrecht said...

Ontrack Data Recovery can recover data from REV, GoVault and RDX cartridges.

pogueNYT said...

What a weird blog post! All these insults, ultimately justified by this strange objection that you need to buy 2 of these things in case one fails?

But these cartridges, designed for enterprise, actually have *lower* failure rate than self-contained hard drives.

So by your logic, you should never buy an additional hard drive-- you must always buy TWO. You should never burn a DVD--you should always burn TWO.

My column was *all about* perspective: that these newer expensive cartridges are super-, hyper-, ultra-reliable--sealed, shockproof, waterproof, dustproof--BECAUSE they're intended for industrial use.

This is why they're too expensive for consumers (the readership of my column).

You say: "Mr. Pogue plays with toys and writes about it."

Actually, I test these products. Rigorously and scientifically, usually for weeks. "Plays" makes it sound casual and unseriously. That's not what I do.

"It is all but guaranteed that in a year or two none of the devices he wrote about will still be on the market."

You want to bet? Rev drives have already been on the market for 3 years, so you lose there.

And I'll bet you $100, right here, right now, that both Quantum and RDX drives will still be available at this time in 2009.

Take the bet, or retract your statement. :)

Finally, about breakage: all 3 products are warranteed for 3 years.

These are WAY more rugged than hard drives.

--David Pogue

Michael Horowitz said...

Hello David,

No insult was intended. I said I read your columns and have learned from them.

That you consider the idea of buying two of these devices "strange" is making my point for me. Your perspective is that of a consumer, mine is that of a computer nerd charged with protecting data that absolutely can't be lost. Anyone depending on proprietary backup hardware needs two of the devices at the least. And, as I said in small print, the devices should be in different physical locations, again reflecting my perspective that the data is *very* important. These are basic concepts, not meant as a commentary on any of the devices reviewed in the article.

Regardless of the failure rate of the cartridges, the above holds true. And as for the actual failure rate, no one can predict the future, other than to say that hard disks fail, for mechanical reasons, environmental reasons and human reasons. Take that as a given. Two recent and large studies both found surprisingly high failure rates for hard disks.

As for burning two DVDs instead of one, yes, I think that is the right thing to do in many cases. But, regardless of the hardware involved, the rule of thumb should be to maintain three copies of important data (the original and two backups). At least.

Not long ago Business 2.0 magazine came close to not publishing an issue because they lost the original data and the backups were not being made because of a problem that went undetected. Their big failure was not failing to notice that the backups weren't running, it was only attempting to maintain a single backup.

As for "these newer expensive cartridges" being "super-, hyper-, ultra-reliable--sealed, shockproof, waterproof, dustproof" and the like, my main point was about the drives, not the cartridges.

The "play with toys" bit may have been over the line. If you test products for weeks, my apologies. Let me just say that many "reviews" are done by people who have not lived with the products for weeks.

In the worse case, some are just press releases in disguise. The Times, in particular, publishes what seem to be press releases in the Circuits section. I'm sure that upon closer inspection there is a downside to the tiny green PC featured on page C10 today. But to read the description, it's perfect in every way.

In part, this is why I started my website. After experiencing a product for a long time, the warts tend to be more obvious. So, this why I may have painted you with too broad a brush.

On the other hand, when it comes to testing "rigorously and scientifically", this is not the impression one is left with after viewing the accompanying video with the juggling clown.

I am not going to bet on the shelf life of these particular products. Regardless of what it turns out to be, planning for the day when something breaks and is no longer sold is the right thing to do.

There are only two type of computer users - those that have lost data and those that will.

You say these are business products and thus too expensive for your audience of consumers. I agree, they should not have been the topic of a consumer oriented column (although, speaking as a computer nerd I very much enjoyed it). But the paper doesn't have a business oriented computer column. Too bad.

john said...

I think it was a strange and insulting article also. The question of should I invest in one rugged backup device or two lesser devices (Redundancy quality v Redundancy quality) is not new and is two some extent negated by the emergence of online backup.
Now the small business and even consumer can avail of a share of a corporate level data backup system with technical support and only pay pro rata to the data quantities. This works very well if you have small quantities of critical data but can be overly expensive to the point of not being viable if you have large quantities of not so critical data. The trick here is to try to put some quantitive value on your data. In other words, your family holiday video may have very high sentimental value but this does not mean you would pay to back them up. Your accounts and payroll may have no sentimental value but are perfect for online backup because you would likely pay to back them up and they use small quantities of data.