Three-way data storage–the way to go for the home network

There is a new trend that is affecting how we store data on our home computers and in our home network.

The three-island trend

This is the existence of three data islands

  • The main secondary storage that is part of our regular or mobile computing devices
  • A Network-attached storage system or a removeable hard disk.

The NAS would serve as a network-wide common storage destination as well as having ability to serve media data to network-capable media playback devices without the need for a PC to be on all the time. On the other hand, the removeable hard disk simply is used as an auxiliary storage destination for a particular regular computer.

  • A Cloud or remote storage service

The remote storage services like Dropbox or SkyDrive are typically used either for offsite data backup or as a data drop-off point that exists across the Internet. Most of these services work on a “freemium” business model where you have a small storage capacity available for free but you are able to rent more capacity as you need it. Some of these providers may work alongside hardware or software partners in opening up increased storage space for users of the hardware or software sold by these partners. In the same case, the remote storage services are increasingly offering business-focused packages that are optimised for reliability and security either on a similar freemium model or simply as a saleable service.

The role of file-management and backup software

Previously, backup software was charged with regularly sending copies of data that existed on a computer’s main secondary storage to removeable storage, a network-attached storage system or, in some cases, remote storage services.

New requirements

Tiered data storage

Now this software is charged with backup not just out to removeable or local-network storage, but to be able to set up storage tiers amongst this storage and remote storage. This is a practice that is familiar with large-business computing where high-cost high-availability storage is used for data that is needed most, cheaper medium-availability storage for data that isn’t as needed like untouched accounts with the cheapest, slowest storage media used for archival purposes or for data that doesn’t change.

The remote storage and the NAS or removable storage can each serve as one of these tiers depending on the capacity that the device or service offers.

Remote storage serves as temporary data location

In some cases, the remote storage may exist simply as a data drop-off point between a backup client on a portable computer and a backup agent on a network-attached storage device as part of a remote backup routine. Here, a user may back up the portable computer to a particular share in something like Dropbox. Then an agent program built in to a small-business or high-end consumer NAS would check that share and move or copy the data from Dropbox to the NAS.

Similarly, a remote storage service could work alongside a locally-installed network-attached-storage and another NAS installed at another premises for asynchronous data transfer between these devices. This can be useful if one of these devices isn’t always accessible due to unreliable power or Internet service.

In the case of that small business that starts to add branches, this concept can work well with sharing business data such as price lists or customer information between the branches. Businesses that work on the “storefront-plus-home-office” model could benefit this way by allowing changes to be propagated between locations, again using the remote storage service as a buffer.

Remote storage serves as a share-point

In some cases, a remote-storage service like Dropbox can permit you to share data like a huge image / video album between multiple people. Here, they can have access to the content via a Web page or simply download the content to local storage. In some cases, this could be about copying that image / video collection of a wedding to the “DLNA” folders on a NAS so they can view these pictures on that Samsung Smart TV anytime.

What does the software need

Backup software needs to identify file collections that exist in a backup job and make the extra copies that appear at different locations, whether as different folders on the same target drive or at a different target location. Similar a timed backup job could also encompass synchronisation or “shifting” of other file collections to one or more target locations.

Similarly, the backup routine isn’t just about “copy and compress” files to a large metafile before trransferring it to the backup destination. It is about working the collection file-by-file according to the destination.

You could do this with most software by adding extra backup jobs with different parameters. But this involves creating more large metafiles with most backup software. Here, file-synchronisation software could perform the job better by working at the file level.

Support for remote data storage in a NAS

Some network-attached-storage devices, especially those that work on an application-driven platform, work as clients to remote storage services. Here, this can cater for off-site file replication or “data-fetching” setups without a desktop or laptop computer having to be on all the time.

In some setups where portability is considered paramount, the idea of a NAS using remote data storage can allow a user to temporarily hold files destined for the remote data storage service on a NAS that is offline as far as the Internet is concerned. Then the NAS is just connected to the Internet to synchronise the files with a remote storage service.

Similarly, a media file collection that is shared via a remote data storage service like Dropbox may then end up on a NAS primarily to be made available to DLNA client devices at all times as well as not occupying precious disk space on the computer. This may be relevant for one or more large video files or a collection of many photos from that special occasion.


As we start to see the concept of the “three-island” data storage arrangement in our home and small-business networks, we well have to be able to work with these arrangements whether by copying or moving the data between the different storage “islands”.

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