Looking for Zebras

Background  item #1 – when faced with the task of outfitting a law practice, it does not help when your trusty computer decides that it is time to pack up and move to that great bit-dump in the sky.

Background item #2 – I’m a guy, a pilot and a blooded computer geek which means that shiny gadgets attract me like a trout to a fly. It also means that I’ve a passing knowledge of what can go wrong and the associated costs to fix it. It also means that I’m a wee paranoid about losing client data.

The perfect storm has arrived – I need new hardware; time to go shopping

So off I go to various and sundry stores (on-line & off) looking at desktops, laptops, NAS RAID arrays, backup systems and the like, trying to design a system that would maximize redundancy, portability, and speed while minimizing cost. I was checking out firewalls, fireproofed & explosive hardened hard drives and considering DMZ‘s. It took about a week for me to stop flicking through web stores like a hyperactive squirrel monkey and to start thinking from first principles: what software will I use, what hardware supports the software, what are the simplest and most robust ways to protect things from the most likely causes of failure.

There is an old saying, taught by sage old doctors to brash new interns, “if you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras”. When my old and trusted computer shuffled off this mortal coil, I had heard the hoofbeats and jumped to the conclusing that there were zebras out there. In that initial giddy rush toward the latest and greatest I thought more about the 1 in 1,000,000 event than I did about such matters as keeping things simple (as a solo I’m my own IT department), practical (if I grow and add staff, can I afford to train them on esoteric hardware), and usable.

In the end, I did hear the horses. I got a desktop for the office, a RAID-5 NAS for data & application storage (a poor man’s server), a laptop and a 2-stage backup system (stage 1 does disk to disk image backups, state 2 mirrors the backup image onto removeable media). Its not Fort Knox, but it is usable, was 90% plug-n-play, and, while not proof against bomb-blasts, is secure enough for every day concerns.