Data Centers

Make simple work of backing up terabytes of data on Mac OS X

Erik Eckel highlights two storage systems that offer the capability of backing up large amounts of data without the expense of Fibre Channel solutions.

Mac OS X Servers are renowned for their simplicity and approachability. But they also excel when working with large amounts of data, as is common among graphic artists, video production houses, scientific and engineering offices and many other organizations. But just how should large amounts of data get backed up when using Mac OS X?

By default, the Mac Pro Server can be configured with up to four 2TB drives. Many organizations will opt for a RAID 5 configuration to tweak performance, which means there may be 6TB of data to back up (after allocating 2TB for striping). Of course, Mac OS X can accommodate even greater amounts of data using Fibre Channel cards to connect to Xsan Storage Area Network devices, but for the purposes of this example, we'll stick to addressing data stores of 6TB or less.

Promise SmartStor and LaCie Quadra storage systems offer two options for backing up large Mac OS X servers or even terabytes of data from Mac workstations. Both those models support the volumes of data we're discussing here.

The $1,299 Promise SmartStor DS4600 holds up to 8TB of raw data or 5.7TB after formatting as HFS+. The device can be connected to Mac servers using USB 2.0, FireWire 400/800 or eSATA host interfaces enabling fast data communications. The addition of hot swappable drives and RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 and RAID 10 support means the unit provides the flexibility many organizations require. Further, administrators can choose to set the devices as the default drives for storing Time Machine backups or leverage included SmartSync backup software.

The LaCie 4big Quadra runs $1,149. (a 12TB model is also available for $1,599). The 4big Quadra 8TB, too, supports up to 8TB of preformatted storage, boasts hot-swappable disks and features data transfer rates as high as 200-230MB/s using eSATA connections. The device also supports USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 and 800, as well as RAID and Intego Backup Manager Pro backup software.

Keep in mind these external storage systems still suck electricity (they must power multiple 7200RPM hard disks around-the-clock) and generate noise (cooling remains an issue whenever packing high-speed heat-generating electronics in a small box). But they're affordable.

Short of moving to a full-fledged Xsan, which adds exponential costs due to the need for a Fiber Channel Card ($600 for a dual-channel model and $1,000 for the quad-channel option), an Xsan 2.2 license ($999), and an E-Class RAID subsystem that could total $7,500K or more, these external storage systems help satisfy large backup requirements. Plus, they're easy to use, leverage the simplicity of Time Machine archive backups, and don't break the bank.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...


Point #1: You should NEVER used RAID 5 with drives over 1TB in a production environment as suggested in this article. The parity will most likely prove to be useless and not recover from a drive failure. Providing only a false sense of security. I cite my source: The solution is to use RAID 6 which uses 2 drives for parity. If you are limited to four drives this would mean that you should just mirror it anyway. (I have a feeling that MacOSX is not limited to four drives but maybe 8TB, I don't trust this article. If the RAID is implemented at a hardware level then the OS actually cannot know how many physcial drives you are using and thus could not possibly have this limitation.) Point #2: You no longer need expensive Fiber Optic equipment to run Fibre Channel. There is a new method called Fibre Channel over ethernet that requires a 1gigbit switch for your "SAN". There is no physcial difference between a SAN and a LAN and Fibre Channel is merely a communication protocol that has nothing to do with fibre optics. Silly word games to confuse the uninitiated. I certainly hope I am not giving away all the secrets. ;-D


i am having tough time backing up my two macs with one lacie external hard drive ,if itry to synchronize them at the same time ,my drive is not being recognized with another please i have just purchased the software so i am thinking i had wasted


The article says, "Many organizations will opt for a RAID 5 configuration to tweak performance, which means there may be 6TB of data to back up (after allocating 2TB for striping)." RAID 5 doesn't allow tweaking of performance. It provides increased performance and redundancy on the cheap. It's the poor man's RAID. In other words, you use RAID 5 when you need more spindles for throughput and redundancy but can't shell out for enough drives to run RAID 10 and still get the desired capacity. Also, in your example, the 2 TB is allocated to parity, not striping. The other 6 TB is where the striping is happening.

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