17 May 2012

Save money and pay with time

Money often costs time. And vice versa. I got confronted by the apparent attempt of Plymouth University to save money by not having a proper file server with allocated file space for their employees, and the concomitant back-up routine.

One bad day my external hard drive went ‘pop’. Always unfortunate! And the university does have a support desk, and so far they’ve always been most willing and able to help me out of calamities like this, so I had somewhere to turn to with my worries. But what followed made me contemplate the wisdom of the decisions my employer makes.

The support guys found out it wasn’t the external hard drive that was the problem; it was my old and long-suffering PC that had temporarily lost the ability to connect with it. I was a bit scared anyway; that old computer is useless for keeping data on, and I keep as much as I can on the external drive. We are not supposed to keep files on the network. I periodically back up that drive with another external hard drive. But if the original one goes, a sizeable amount of work can be lost. Not good. So I immediately ordered another hard drive I could use for backing the original one up continuously. I thought that would save me.

Then reality kicked in. My computer already doesn’t allow for all the devises I want to plug in; I of course need a mouse, key board and monitor; I also use a web cam, digital tablet, and a set of boxes. I had to buy a (standard) USB hub to fit it all in. Unfortunately, I now properly learned what I had been suspecting for a while: the only good USB ports in a computer are in the back. These were already full. I already kept my tablet and webcam in the front (which requires the hub). The keyboard might not need a fast USB port, but due to the configuration of the cables you can’t reasonably put it anywhere other than in the back. And I can’t run back-up software through a second-rate USB port. So now I need to buy a powered hub in order to be able to plug in enough external drives to not lose my data when one of them has a problem.

So not only have I lost substantial amounts of time this week trying to save my external drive, have the support guys check my computer to see if they could make it have a hissy fit less often, buy another drive, and then go and find out what sort of hub I need to do the job, and buy that one as well. I also had to spend quite some money on it all that hardware. And had I not spent that time and money I would probably have lost much more time through loss of data. And I can’t imagine it’s just me. Can’t they just have centralised data storage with proper back-up facilities? That saves every single employer having to go through all this hassle every now and then. One would almost assume university management has shares in manufacturers of external hard drives…

The three external drives that should keep me safe from data loss

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