HARD DISK DRIVES VERSUS SOLID STATE DRIVES

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Hard drives aren’t going anywhere

Though hard drives have grown smaller in size, larger in capacity, cheaper in price and faster in speed, the technology behind them has remained fundamentally the same for around fifty years. The manner of transmitting data between the hard drive and motherboard has evolved, but whether it’s Serial or SATA cables, there’s still a motherboard on one end and a system of spinning disk platters on the other.

Those disks just carry on spinning, and are likely to do so for a while, even as the data storage requirements of the world increases and people speak of new data storage technologies on the horizon. Cloud storage is often mentioned as a successor to hard drive technology, but, believe it or not, all that data going to the cloud still has to be stored somewhere. It’s not just floating around in the sky.

Then there are mobile devices, with flash memory being the storage medium of choice. The storage capacity of mobile devices is limited and every piece of data stored in the memory of a mobile device is likely to be backed up multiple times on hard disks at home or in the cloud.

 

What about solid state drives?

Touted as a potential usurper of the hard disk drive, solid state drives store data electronically rather than magnetically, using flash memory chips rather than spinning disk platters. With read and write times that can reach as high as 550MBps versus the 200MB of your fastest hard disk drives,solid state drives boast superior speeds that enable them to boot Windows 7 about 30 seconds faster than hard drives.

They make a lot less noise, too. Solid state drives contain no moving parts, which means that there are no parts to break in the event of physical trauma.

If they’re so fast and durable, surely it’s time they replaced the 50-year-old technology of the hard disk drive? Well, solid state drives have been around for about 30 years, yet hard disk drives remain the data storage medium of choice for most consumers.

One reason is that being faster and more durable doesn’t make them immune to drive failure. In fact, drive failure is included on the list of things to which solid state drives are more vulnerable than hard disk drives. The latter will usually give some warnings signs first.

The major factor is expense, with solid state drives costing about $0.70 to $1 per gigabyte of data versus a few cents per gigabyte for hard disk drives. In 2011, consumers purchased about 350 billion gigabytes worth of hard drive capacity, providing the industry with $33 billion worth in revenue. The same amount of gigabytes in solid state drive capacity would have come to $250 billion.

The first gigabyte hard drive in the 80s cost between $81,000 and $142,400, surely the price of solid state drives will also drop over time?

Solid state drive prices have indeed dropped over time and may drop further, but the price drops are volatile, and dependent on the availability of the lithography used to manufacture them. Either way, they’re not likely to drop at a faster rate than hard disk drives, so the price gap will remain wide.

Who knows what the future will bring, but for now, hard disk drives look likely to remain the most prevalent data storage medium for a while yet.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF BIG DATA

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Everyone’s talking about big data and how important it is for businesses if they want to succeed in a world that is increasingly competitive. However, while big data is relatively easy to collect, it’s not that easy to make any sense of. And if businesses can’t make sense of it, well, what’s the point?

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the data that you collect.

1)     Ensure you have people who are capable of insightful data analysis.

It sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? But many businesses simply assume that the task can be managed by anyone in the marketing department. According to Olly Downs, analysing big data requires a special data management skillset (zdnet.com). Fortunately, Downs says that some universities are developing programmes that will address the current skills vacuum.

2)     Collect data with a purpose.

When people hear the words big data, they assume that it means they have to collect all the data they possibly can. They don’t have a specific goal in mind or have any idea of what they want to glean from the data. The whole point of big data is to extract truly meaningful information from it; the kind of information that will make a tangible different to your bottom line.

Bear in mind, however, that because big data drills down into information much more than traditional data analysis, you might get surprising results, which could make you reassess your goals.

3)     Structure your data properly.

Shira Ovide (Wall Street Journal) says that one of the biggest mistakes companies make with their big data is that they don’t organise it properly. Data may be duplicated across several databases, or data that should be kept together may be separated unnecessarily. Data that is all over the place is more difficult to analyse; it’s more difficult to see relationships and patterns. This makes it more difficult to use the data effectively.

4)     Ensure you have the proper tools.

You’ll need the right software to help you structure data and to help you extrapolate insights that are meaningful to your business. Some business intelligence software is able to help in this regard, but it’s a good idea to talk to software providers to ensure that the product does meet your business’s data needs.

5)     Back up all your data.

Imagine how awful it would be if you went to the trouble of defining goals, collecting the appropriate information and structuring it in an easy-to-analyse way, and then it just disappeared without a trace. Your server could crash, your system could be infected with a virus, or a lighting strike could fry all your circuits.

Always, always, but always have backups, and backups of your backups.

Big data can certainly help your business operate more efficiently and help you restructure your marketing plans to improve ROI. But you need to approach it in a logical, systematic and well-thought-out manner.

HOW GREEN IS YOUR DATA CENTRE?

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Data centres were not built on a reputation for energy efficiency. They did not start earning green credentials until a few years’ ago. Now that everyone knows about carbon footprints and the need for more environmental responsibility, however, data centres are falling over themselves to show how green they are.

The market is booming

In September 2012, Heather Clancy wrote an article which appeared on ZDNet.com, in which she looked at the burgeoning green data centre market. She cites projections from Pike Research, which estimate the money spent on greening data centres will grow from $17.1 billion in 2012 to $45 billion in 2016.

The green trend is not just being driven by conscience, however. It makes financial sense to migrate to energy efficient systems that also reduce operating costs and simplify all manner of business processes. In fact, the quest to reduce carbon footprints has led to some technological innovations that have improved functioning over all.

Everyone is getting in on it

Google was one of the first major IT players to start incorporating green operations in its data centres. At least, it was one of the first major IT players to make a big song and dance about its plans. Since then, a lot of companies have leapt on the green bandwagon. In fact, Microsoft recently announced its plans to invest $348 million in a green data centre in Mecklenburg County, VA. Hardly coincidentally, the data centre will also enable Microsoft to extend its cloud computing capacity.

Microsoft is aiming to create a carbon neutral cloud-based system, which it will achieve with renewable energy credits (eWeek.com).

Zero is where it’s all happening

However, according to an article that was published onBusinessInsider.com in November 2012, Iceland has beaten Microsoft to the punch. What’s more, it’s done it without having to ‘fake it’ with renewable energy credits.

Verne Global owns Iceland’s current largest zero-carbon-footprint data centre which is powered by 100% renewable energy. Granted, Iceland is aided by the fact that temperatures in its data centres don’t reach the highs of those in warmer climes, which makes them easier – and more efficient – to cool, but still, it’s no mean feat.

The article doesn’t mention whether the data centre meets all of the requirements set out by SearchDataCenter. According to SearchDataCenter it takes more than renewable energy to make a data centre properly green (or carbon neutral). For example:

  • The building should be built according to green construction principles – and that means with sustainability in mind and with eco-friendly materials that are sourced in eco-friendly ways.
  • It means that the landscaping has to be sustainable.
  • Pretty much everything used on site must be recyclable – no polystyrene cups for coffee or water, and no bottled water, for that matter.
  • Company vehicles should be electric or hybrid, employees should have public transport options and should be encouraged to cycle to work, and international meetings should be held via VoIP conferencing.

There is no doubt about it, data centres are adopting more sustainable and environmentally-friendly technologies – and that is good news. But there is also no doubt that saving the planet isn’t the primary motivating factor – and that is also ok. That’s because, in the end, consumers benefit from a cleaner planet, as well as reduced costs – and that is more than good, it’s brilliant.

A LOOK AT DATA STORAGE

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We live in a data-centric world; we’re all saving photos, music, videos, contact details, and personal and business documents on storage devices that range from itty bitty flash drives to mega terabyte hard drives. Even the cloud comes into the picture. For most of us, a USB will fulfil our personal data storage needs. But it’s not as simple as you might think. If you really want to get into it, there are three types of USBs to choose from. 1)     Single layer cell (SLC) SLC flash drives save one bit of data per cell. This results in greater cell endurance, faster transfer speeds and lower power consumption than other flash drives. A drawback is that SLC flash drives are more expensive than other types. 2)     Multi-layer cell (MLC) With MLC flash drives two bits of data is stored in a single cell, meaning that it can store double the amount of data as an SLC drive. The drawbacks are that the cells aren’t as durable as SLC cells, the transfer speeds are slower and they are more power hungry. However, they are cheaper than SLCs. 3)     Triple layer cell (TLC) TLC flash drives store three bits of data on a single cell. This means that their endurance is lower and their transfer speeds are even slower than that of MLC drives. There is also a greater chance of them failing than both the SLC and MLC flash drives. As a result TLCs are the cheapest type of flash drives available. What about those of us who need lots of storage, like 10 terabytes or more? Well, then RAID is the way to go. What is RAID? RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Very basically, what it does is take a number of hard drives and connect them in such a way that they act as a single drive, so that there are extra copies of data in case some is lost. The three main types of RAID are RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 5. RAID 0 RAID 0 should not be used for any critical system as a fraction of the file is written over multiple disks, which means that if one drive fails the whole array is lost. Benefits are faster read/write times. RAID 1 RAID 1 can be used for a critical system because if one disk fails, you have another to replace it with. This is because it works by mirroring data on redundant disks. As a result, you don’t get as much storage space as you would with RAID 0, but at least you have peace of mind. RAID 5 In the case of RAID 5, if one drive fails the rest do not, although they run at a slowed rate. Also, if one drive fails you can use the information on the active drives to recover the data you lost. It must be noted that RAID Recovery is considered the most complex form of data recovery, which is why you should only ever take your RAID problems to fully qualified and reputable data recovery experts. Take the time to investigate the companies operating in your area. Don’t be put off by small-scale operations, but don’t dismiss international specialists that have branches as far afield as Brisbane, Italy and Los Angeles, either.

INSPECT YOUR GADGETS

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We have all become accustomed to mobile gadgets like iPads, iPhones, iPod-touches, and the list goes on.  They have been integrated seemingly seamlessly into our lives.

But there are some gadgets that don’t slot into your lives quite so easily that maybe you haven’t thought of yet.  It is up to you to decide whether you could imagine living without these gadgets after learning about them.

Here are few:

The Magic Wand Remote

If you’re bored using your old television remote, why not replace it with the long, thin, tubular, magic wand remote?  Change the channel with flicks of your wrist, and with big sweeping moves of your arm you can record your favourite TV show.  Fantastic.

Video Recording Spy Watch

Concealed inside this watch is 1GB of flash memory attached to a microphone. The microphone is well placed so that you can clearly record while the watch is still on your wrist. This makes it very easy to sneakily record conversations without raising suspicion.

It comes with a set of head phones allowing you to listen to your recording immediately afterwards, and the watch will also act as an MP3 player. This allows you to take your favourite tunes with you and keep you entertained while you’re on the move or in a boring lecture.  Who needs to tell the time?

Meade MySky Star and Planet Identifier

If you’re clueless about the night sky, don’t let it bother you any longer.  This gadget looks like a science-fiction ray gun, but the only thing it fires is knowledge.  It helps you to identify and learn about the stars and planets and can take you on a guided audio and visual tour where it can highlight the best bits based on the current time and your location.  It has full-color LCD that won’t obstruct your view of the night sky.  Wonderful.

Self-Stirring Lazy Mug

This mug holds your tea, coffee, hot chocolate or other mixed drink, and all you need to do is push a special button on the handle and it starts to stir your drink.  Who needs a spoon?  Think of all the time you’ll save.

Thanks to the very innovative people with plenty of time on their hands to invent gadgets like these, there are loads of them to choose from.

Before you have decided which ones you need in your life, there will already be another five hundred new ones available.  Isn’t it nice to be spoilt for choice?

DATA PROTECTION IS JUST AS IMPORTANT OFFLINE AS ON

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How much of yourself do you share with the world? Do you take pains to keep your really personal information offline because you never know who’s watching? What if that’s not enough?

You can invent convoluted passwords to stymie hackers, you can install the latest firewalls and antivirus software, you can keep your email address and phone numbers off social networks. But, you can’t do anything about banks whose systems are hacked or about your friends who accidentally reveal a personal identifier online.

That doesn’t mean you should give it all up and give the world you PIN number and the password to your cheque account.

 

Protect your data

These days, people are very concerned about protecting their data online. They worry about hackers and viruses, and about search engines and marketers collecting, using and selling information about their search patterns.

And they are right to worry (although there is a line between appropriate concern and paranoia). But they shouldn’t forget about all the data that is available offline.

Ask yourself, what do you do with old bank statements – the really old ones? Do you run them through the shredder, cut them up into itty bitty pieces or just chuck them in the recycling bin? Your bank statements contain a wealth of personal information that cunning criminals can use to unravel all the details of your life and steal your entire identity, let alone all you money.

What you do with old utility bills? What do you do with those annoying letters that tell you’ve been pre-approved for store card at a store you’ve never been in?

If a department store can get your details, you can bet that a recreational hacker can do it quicker.

 

What else should you consider?

Where do you store your hard copies? Do you stuff them in a drawer, do you have a concertina file in the back of a cupboard, do you have an unlocked filing cabinet, or do you have a safe?

A thief with a particular goal in mind won’t find it too difficult to find your details if you keep documents in all the usual places. The least you can do is make it as difficult as possible to get hold of the information. Put locks on your filing cabinet. Buy a safe. Don’t keep documents in your sock drawer.

How much of your data is stored on your mobile phone? Is it secure enough that it won’t pose any risk if the phone is stolen? Mobile phones get stolen all the time. Sometimes they’re scrubbed clean before they find new owners. Sometimes curious thieves dig around before discarding unimportant information, but they might keep some stuff – like the pictures of your kids at the easily identifiable park that you frequent.

All your contacts, your texts and all your pictures, even your apps are data gold mines for someone of a certain bent.

That’s why there are data protection apps available, and why you should always have a password to access your phone. It’s also why you need to encrypt all the data you can, especially on your desktop and laptop.

You’re never going to make your data 100% safe. But many people are deterred if they have to work too hard to get what they want. So make criminals jump through fiery hoops, so that at least they have to earn your data – before your tracking system nails them, that is.

PROS AND CONS OF EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES

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The rising demand for hard drive space

In 1980, the first gigabyte hard drive arrived. It was almost as big as a fridge, but it so many megabytes; more megabytes then anyone could ever need, right?

As time went by, people realized that there is no such thing as enough megabytes. Then they realized that you could never have enough gigabytes. And finally, it got to the point where the mythical terabyte became the standard unit of storage.

That’s the way it is with hard drive space. What’s considered too much now will be the standard in every computer in a few years, and scoffed at a few years later.

Multimedia and social media, all the video and image files people store on their computers and upload to social media sites, all contributing to the rising demand for data storage. Facebook alone processes about 500 Terabytes worth of data per day, while 72 hours’ worth of video footage is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

 

External hard drives: More portability for less reliability?

The space requirements of data are higher and so is its value, whether it is photos of a fondly remembered trip or important business data. The prevalence of viruses and hacking means people not only need additional storage space, but a means to backup all this information and protect it from threats. This is why external hard drives have become one of the fastest-growing data storage mediums.

They provide additional storage space that can be installed without having to open the computer case. It’s just a simple matter of plugging it in, usually via USB cable, and hundreds of additional gigabytes are yours to deploy. When it comes to protecting that data from online threats, it’s just a simple matter of unplugging the same cable, unlike internal hard drives which are accessible for as long as the computer is on.

Furthermore, external hard drives provide extra storage that is also portable. You may not be able to carry them around in your pocket as easily as USBs, but the far superior storage capacity more than makes up for the inferior portability.

For all their benefits, external hard drives are not the most reliable of devices. Internal hard drives are quite prone to failure as is, and external drives don’t even have the benefit of being close to the computer fans, which means that there is no cooling mechanism to protect them from excess heat.

What’s more, being positioned outside the case means they’re more exposed to the elements, and to the threat of physical trauma, especially when cables are unwisely left to trail in places where they can easily be caught on someone’s foot.

Data should only be considered “backed up” if it’s contained on an internal drive as well as an external drive. On the plus side, the portability of external hard drives makes it easier to transport them to a data recovery center should they fail.

THE DANGER THAT LURKS IN YOUR PRINTER

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Are you aware of the danger that lurks in your business’s copier? These days, copiers and printers come with internal hard drives, and these are often forgotten when it comes to ensuring data security. Basically, every document copied and printed is stored on the hard drive, which is a major problem for businesses which regularly print and copy highly sensitive data.

Think about a bank; every time you pop in to do a transaction, like a cash transfer, or pick up a new card, your ID is photocopied. Every document you have to sign is photocopied. Your account details and personal information are stored, along with those of every other client, and they are easy pickings for identity thieves.

Think about police stations, which copy and print highly sensitive data regarding criminal cases. Think of the damage that data can do if it ends up in the wrong hands, or even in the public domain.

What can you do to protect yourself?

There’s not a lot you can do about the data stored in your bank’s copier (beyond asking them about their security measures and suggesting that they look into solutions), but you can protect your business’s data.

  • You can purchase data security kits, which encrypt data stored on the hard drive, as well as data stored on dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Data is cleared and overwritten regularly.
  • Degaussing is recommended if you have no intention of using the drive again, or of selling it (VSSP). This entails running data through a magnetic field, which is supposed to completely remove all traces of data.
  • You can use overwrite software, which doesn’t render the drive inoperable. Look for software that provides a report on the erasure process (whether it was successfully completed or whether errors occurred).
  • Physically destroying the drive by disintegration, incineration, melting, and chemical treatment. However, this is not always entirely successful as skilled data recovery experts can often recover data from severely physically damaged drives.
  • Don’t forget that multifunction devices are plugged into your network, which makes them vulnerable to viruses, worms and malware. So, you need to include them in your network security measures (Larry Kovnat (Forbes.com).

The danger of hard drives in copiers and printers was first reported by CBS in 2010. Since then, not a lot more people have become aware of the risk. The result is that a lot of confidential data still finds ends up where it shouldn’t when old devices are sold or recycled. It’s not just up to manufacturers to ensure that their customers are aware of the danger that lurks in their machines (although they have a very important role to play). Consumers should also properly research equipment before they sign any cheques, so that they know exactly what they are getting.

THE BEST DATA RECOVERY TIP IN THE WORLD

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The best data recovery tip in the world is to have backup and backups of your backups and backups of those backups – and to back up your backups every day.

But, we’re human and sometimes we forget. And, it’s technology so sometimes things go wrong. Besides, how many people, not businesses, have backups of all their data? They might have an external hard drive or redundant drives backing up their PCs, but how much of their smartphone data is backed up? How often do they dump all their smartphone pictures and video files onto their PCs, so that they can be backed up?

Their data loss might not be as financially or critically devastating as it is for businesses, but you can’t put a value on your kid’s first steps or the perfectly timed picture of your dog jumping through the sprinkler.

So, what are you to do?

Your absolute best bet is to make an appointment with a hard drive data recovery specialist. Tinkering around with your system when you’re not entirely sure you know what you’re doing is a recipe for disaster. Chances are you will make things worse. In fact, you could render your data irrecoverable, when it could have been perfectly recoverable in the first place.

Here’s what you need to do when things start going pear-shaped.

1)     Don’t think that funny noises are normal.

If your computer starts making noises that it doesn’t ordinarily make, try and do a quick back up and then switch it off. The turning off part is especially important if the noises are quite disturbing, like grinding.

If you hope that the noises will somehow stop on their own and don’t turn it off, you risk further damage to the hard drive. You also risk your valuable data being overwritten by new data, like automatic temporary files by desktop applications.

2)     You can give software a go if you really want to.

You can get data recovery software – before the problem occurs. You can get free software and you can buy software. Buy it. Free software often doesn’t do what it says it does and it can also complicate a problem that may not have been complicated to begin with. Even bought software isn’t always as good as the manufacturers like to think.

Do some research and buy the best that you can afford. And keep a specialist’s number on speed dial.

3)     Don’t mess with it.

Don’t uninstall and reinstall any programmes. If you do this you could overwrite all of your old data and even the best recovery specialists will have to work extra hard to try reach your data that is buried beneath layers of problems.

If you are familiar with a computer’s innards then you can unplug it and remove the hard drive, so that all you have to do is take it with you to the data recovery guys. Don’t try this if you don’t have a clue. Just take in your whole machine and leave it to the professionals.

4)     Get in your car and drive.

Some data recovery companies will pick up and drop off the drive, which is great because you don’t need to worry about handling the damaged drive or about packing it correctly.

If you do have to take in the drive yourself, ask for packing instructions. The last thing you want is to have your unprotected drive rolling around your boot or sliding from the seat to the foot well when you take a corner or get too vigorous with the brakes.

The bottom line is that it’s always best to have your data restored by a professional. You might be prepared to risk your personal data with some self-recovery attempts, but businesses should certainly not do this.

So, what are the take-ways from this?

1)     Back up everything all the time.

2)     Find the most reputable data recovery company in your city and keep their contact details handy.

THE EVOLUTION OF WINDOWS THROUGH THE AGES

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Let there be graphics

Though Xerox implemented a mouse-based Graphical User Interface on its Alto Computer as early as 1973, it took about a decade for Microsoft and Apple, in direct competition with each other, to sell this system to the world.

Windows 1 first arrived in 1985, introducing graphical matter into the black void that was MSDOS. Twenty-eight years later, Windows is estimated to be the operating system of choice on around 90% of all personal computers. Over time, each new stage in the advancement of digital technology has been incorporated into the functionality of the Windows operating system. The advent of more powerful CPUs, the internet, social media and the rise of mobile devices; all of these have played their part in its evolution.

Twenty-seven years and eight versions later

Learning to use a computer can be a frightening thing, with the inexperienced being under the false impression that a click in the wrong place will initiate a self-destruction sequence.

Imagine those same people using the MSDOS interface and its system of commands that preceded Windows 1. Well, in truth that might actually have seemed less threatening to them, in the sense it would be hard for them to believe that typing commands like “DIR” on a black screen could do anything whatsoever, let alone cause something to blow up.

Windows 1 arrived in 1985 with its GUI (Graphical User Interface), allowing users to execute commands by clicking on them with a mouse. It was the beginning of a philosophy that would become the fundamental tenet of User Interface Design: Make things simpler and more intuitive, which usually implies making it more visual.

In 1987, Windows 2.0 replaced the commands with desktop icons, and supported keyboard shortcuts; in 1990, Windows 3.0 introduced multitasking and improved multimedia support. It also incorporated the 16 color graphics made possible by the introduction of VGA cards.

Windows 95 was the next major step. Whereas previous versions of Windows were basically MSDOS dressed up in a Graphical User Interface, Windows 95 was the first to do away with the underlying MSDOS core, and introduce an entirely new GUI that would be the basis for the versions that followed.

It was the first 32-bit operating system, allowing specifically designed applications designed to run much faster than before, and it was the first to implement plug-and-play compatibility, meaning that new hardware devices added to the computer would be detected by the operating system  and assigned the necessary resources.

Versions that followed included Windows 98, with its FAT32 system allowing for file partitions larger than 2 GB; Windows 2000 and Windows XP in 2001, each of them enhancing the Windows 95 interface and introducing new features.

In 2006, Windows Vista introduced the “Aero” visual interface, with new features that included the ability to preview windows before opening them. In 2009, Windows 7 sought to implement an enhanced version of the Aero interface without the clunkiness of its predecessor.

Windows 8 was released in 2012, with a completely redesigned interface that reflected all the trends we’ve seen in User Interface design over the past few years. Touchscreen usability, for example, and a menu system geared towards both desktops and mobile devices.

DotTech created a visual representation showing the evolution of the Windows interface over the decades. It perfectly emphasizes how far the operating system has come. Some will swear by Linux, others by Mac, but few can deny the impact of Windows.

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