Microsoft yesterday announced the new "Storage Spaces" feature in Windows 8 that will allow you to pool the hard disk storage you have in your PC (if you have more than a single hard disk) and use it all together as a single big hard disk. On the face of it this seems like a wonderful idea as all our collections of music, photos and videos are getting larger. I want to offer a note of caution when using technology such as this on a PC however, especially when its managed directly with Windows should you want to take advantage of it.
This type of system has been around for a great many years in the form of RAID. Here's it's managed by hardware so is completely independent of the operating system you use. This means that should the need arise to perform a clean reinstallation of Windows (and trust me, that time will eventually come), the hardware will still effectively manage your pooled storage and you won't lose any files and data.
One of the reasons I'm cautious is that Microsoft removed a similar feature from Windows Home Server only last year because they couldn't get it to work relibably. Files were disappearing from people's computers and the pooled storage feature was directly responsible for the data loss. Now Microsoft has already had a great deal of experience in this field and there's no reason to assume they wouldn't have finally got it working now. I say this because I was told by Microsoft last year that they don't want to raise people's hopes about features that they cannot later deliver (remember WinFS anyone?) It's likely then that this feature does work or else Windows chief Steven Sinofsky wouldn't have announced it on the Building Windows 8 blog.
Should you use a feature like this in Windows however you can expect a complete reinstall to fail to recognise any of the data stored in it should you have to later do a complete reinstall of the operating system. This means that you will have re-create the array (something that Windows 8 can only do with recently formatted disks anyway) and restore all your files and data from a backup.
This is the crux of the matter and I wanted to say that if you don't already have any New Year's resolutions, then maintaining a good and appropriate backup strategy should certainly be on the list! Ideally the best way to back up is to have a copy on-site and also a copy off-site. For on-site backup a great tool to use is something like Microsoft's Live Mesh which will keep files synchronised between multiple PCs and laptops in your home.
Regards the off-site backup, the best solution would be to use a cloud service such as Mozy, Dropbox or Amazon S3 (sadly Live Mesh still only allows you to use 5Gb of the 25Gb space you get free with SkyDrive). If you a great many files however then an external hard disk is a great backup solution that can be stored at a friend or family's home and brought back once a month to update the backup.
Maintaining a suitable backup solution is extremely important, no more so than now when so much of our lives are stored digitally. While features such as Windows 8's Storage Spaces might look like a fantastic solution to your data storage problems, believe me the extra problems that can come with them can make your life far worse than it currently is.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.