Whatever your have gone 100% digital or for occasional use, it is good practice to keep a copy of your important files “off site” from your main backup infrastructure. Mine is a 5-drive Drobo system used by time machine at work (set with 2-drive failure protection mode). So for portable backup, I bought a few years ago a 320Gb rugged LaCie triple interface (USB2/FW400/FW800) drive. Worked very nicely but got a little small. I also knew that I would change by MacBook Pro in 2012, with the expectation that USB3 / Thunderbolt would become the norm. My 15″ MacBook Pro Retina display fits the bill.
So I recently acquire the LaCie Rugged 1 Tb USB3 / Thunderbolt drive.
I decided to submit this drive to real-world read/write tests. By real-world, it means in my case backing-up and reading back files/folders.
- I used three folders: one 9Gb composed mainly of mp3 and mp4 files, a 17Gb folder containing 12 MPixel photographs and finally a 109.8Gb folder composed mainly of standard and high-definition movies.
- I used the terminal cp and time commands for these tests, namely: time cp -r <source> <destination>
- Write tests = getting files from my Retina notebook and write them to the LaCie drive
- Read tests = reading the files from the LaCie drive and to my MacBook Pro
- Each test has been performed three times for each folder for a given interface (USB2, FW800, …)
- I calculated the average values from the 9 individual values in the read tests for each interface. I proceeded similarly for the write tests.
For those who wonder, the Retina is using the latest generation SSD drive, so it is not a bottleneck in these tests!
The results (the good)
The figure below gives the write / read performance in Mb/s for my old 320 Gb triple interfaces LaCie starting at around 35 Mb/s using the USB2 interface and about 60 Mb/s with FW800. In comparison using the same terminal command as above to copy the same folders to another place on my internal SSD drive i.e. read from the SSD drive and write a new version of these folders also to the SSD drive gives over 266 Mb/s!
First impression of the LaCie 1 Tb drive: it is much faster than the previous one thanks to the modern USB3 and Thunderbolt interfaces. The gain factor over the previous incarnation is between 1.7 to 3 times faster in these tests.
The surprise (the ugly)
The main surprise is the Thunderbolt interface is providing very little gain over USB3 in my real-world tests. In fact considering that the standard deviations are between 5 to 10% of the reported values shown in the figure, one can safely assumed that this drive basically offer the same level of performance for both interfaces.
In turns out that LaCie decided to use a 5400RPM drive for this model. I therefore must conclude that the hard drive rotational speed is limiting the Thunderbolt interface (maybe it even limits the USB3 interface). While marketing this drive as a Thunderbolt enable drive is a great publicity pull, the decision of using a sub-standard hard drive (in term of speed) is a very stupid one from LaCie in my opinion and deceiving for the buyer expecting to obtain significant advantage from the Thunderbolt port.
The new LaCie Rugged 1 Tb USB3/Thunderbolt external hard drive is a very capable, robust drive for anyone needing a drive that can travel and sustain some level of bumping. It is much faster than the previous triple interface LaCie rugged version. However even for its 220-230$ price point, do not expect the enhanced Thunderbolt speed. You will have to settle for USB3 speed.
Off-site data storage would fall under provincial legislation which can vary from province to province. If you’re in BC, Alberta or Nova Scotia, there is legislation on the issue and you would probably need to seek legal opinions on the matter. If you’re in the private sector I think things are pretty much clear: use at your discretion. But public sector is another can of worms.
The ‘patriot act’ concerns (i.e., your data can be taken from you at will if it resides in the US) is not as big an issue as you’d think. Many countries have similar legislation on the issue. It is true however that the US asks the courts (more often than other countries) for access to digital data. The hosting site, however, cannot voluntarily provide the data.
On a side topic, there is a pretty big vacuum for off-site services, like cloud computing in Canada.
Bottom line for me (learned the hard way) is always have a local back-up.
Why not just use a cloud disk storage?
There are many good reasons to use cloud storage for team projects and sharing. This is how I use cloud storage.
There are also very good reasons not to do that as part of your main backup strategy. My main backup strategy is Time Machine on a RAID6-like device (Drobo with two drive protection) and an independent mirror backup, updated at regular interval:
1) I do not like relinquish control on my personnal data to third party. This is why I like BoxCryptor when using DropBox and even then it is for very specific usage.
2) I do not trust third party (i.e. off site cloud-based) storage for backing-up my work computer. There is also intellectual properties issues involved as well as other (very valid) concerns from my employer.
3) I have hundreds of gigbytes of data. Bandwidth is not an issue at work but it is at home (there are no cheap, unlimited packages in Canada)
4) You must have a fast internet acces to restore any meaningful portion of your hard drive in a decent timeframe.
5) With a physical drive, I can boot my MacBook and continue to work even if there is a problem with the internal drive (it happen to me once during a work day a few years back).
That being said, if you have no professional “concerns”, it might not be an issue for you and cloud storage could be just fine 😉