Forget Time Capsule, I want a Space Ship

Apple’s Time Capsule is great. Seriously. When has backup been easier? But I need more.

The MacBook Air‘s small storage highlights a problem I’ve been suffering for some time: there’s never enough storage. The slower processor and limited RAM expansion are sufferable, but storage isn’t. The 120GB drive in my MacBook Pro now is stuffed with 8GB of music (and that’s after spending hours paring it down a few weeks ago), and almost 50GB of pictures. I’ve piled up almost 10GB of email, another 10GB of stuff in my downloads and desktop folders that I can’t quite place nor get rid of, and a paltry 5GB of just plain old documents.

That’s about 80GB of my own stuff, add to that 8GB of applications and 15GB of stuff in /Library, /System, and /var (well, /private/var). Now recognize that a “120GB” drive can really only store about 110GB and you see my problem.

My photo library grows fast. I took 1.5GB of photos last weekend. Most of them are junk, and I’ve started actually tossing ones I don’t think I’ll ever use, but it hurts. I’ve also tried burning photos of to CD or DVD, but that defeats the point of having a library in the first place. And none of this changes the fact that, even without my photos, I’d be bumping in to the limits of the Air’s disk capacity (let’s assume that I’d be getting the 80GB HDD model, not the 64GB and at least $1000 more expensive SSD model). And then I have to ask myself “do I really care if I have a Mac if I can’t have iPhoto?” The short answer is “less so.”

So here’s my real question: Why hasn’t Apple figured out how to offer me a storage solution that puts frequently used items on local disk, and less-frequently used items on a network disk? Seamlessly.

Really. I want my iPhoto and iTunes to work just like they always have, but if it’s been a while since I looked at the pictures of my sister’s graduation from a few years ago, I want it to put them on a remote disk. And when I do decide to look at them again, I want it to fetch them from that remote disk and show them to me as though they’d never left. It might take a moment longer for me to load them from the network, but I can suffer that. Especially if it means I don’t have to manage where they are for myself.

It’s amazing how many pieces of this are already in place. The network is nearly ubiquitous. Unix and Linux have had union filesystems for years. Clearly somebody would have to think seriously about what happens if the network isn’t there, but that’s solvable. The value of having a hard drive with elastic capacity and seamless live backups is certainly worth it.

16 thoughts on “Forget Time Capsule, I want a Space Ship

  1. Agreed, whole-heartedly. I’ve actually got about 73 GB of music in my itunes library–that’s half my disk. I couldn’t bear to part with any of it. It’s a problem. At any given time, I have about 6 GB free.

  2. I find myself manually doing this and agree it would be helpful for a real solution. I end up keeping the stuff that I don’t use much on the desktop and add what i want to listen/view more often to the laptop. Usually ends up with me not having everything I want or need at the time I need it. I’ve also lost some files in the movement.

    Someone could probably hack together a location aware mount point with a cron job that moves things between them if it’s mounted. A more elegant/transparent solution would be welcome. They have the appliance now so I wouldn’t be surprised if the next osx has something that uses it.

  3. Well, I’m still waiting on time capsule to ship, but it seems like time macine will pretty much do what you say. It will back up old data, and you can go back and look it up later. It might be a workaround, you’d have to figure out a way to wrangle it, but imagining previous versions of your computer as folders doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me. It’s probably a workaround.

    I do get what you’re saying, but it doesn’t seem as awkward as you’re saying. Maybe if you start using time machine to do all your storage… load pictures, let them back up, then delete them, you’d have a chronologically organized backup for pictures.

    Or, maybe I’m just talking out of my @ss. When I have the time capsule here, I’ll be able to play with time machine more, and say for certain. But it seems to me that the chronologically organized whole system backup is a slightly different paradigm than I’m used to, and I have a feeling that it will start to change the way system backups are viewed. It will probably be less of a crash repair fix, and more of a way to organize the things in a similar fashion to what you describe.

    My biggest problem is trying to organize piles and piles of old sh!t in a way where I can find what I’m looking for. Now that people have information backed up dating back to pre- int’net listserv days, there’s a lot of stuff to look through, and I don’t have the patience to look through that many folders. Chronological order is a good starting point for me, particularly for pictures.

    But again, I could just be spouting out of my backside.

  4. @James: unfortunately, anybody who tries to do this with Time Capsule or Time Machine will get a nasty surprise: lost data. When a drive fills up, Time Machine deletes the oldest backups to make room for the new backups. A feature I’d love to see is one that allows users to burn backups to DVD for archiving.

    Your point about organization is huge, however. And that’s why I find it so difficult to archive photos out of iPhoto. I’ve learned how to find my photos there, but DVD archives break that.

  5. Hi guys,

    Just wanna share my experience. I love taking photos too and have quite a huge photo libraries: iPhoto and Aperture. Yes, for the photos, I suggest you try Aperture which enables you to manage referenced files you keep on an external drive or wherever you store them. And in my iPhoto library, I just keep some smaller size pics and frequently used ones. In my 80GB external hard disk, I keep the photos mostly be my Nikon D80 (each raw file sizes almost 10 MB), and my two other iTunes library. Yes, my 80GB internal hard disk is to small to accommodate all of them. It’s too costly to upgrade internal HDD. So, I am doing ok with the above solution. And I am currently using my 120 GB external harddisk for Time Machine.

    So, in short, use Aperture for better management of your photos and split iTunes libraries.

    I can’t wait to get Time Capsule.


  6. “I’ve also tried burning photos of to CD or DVD, but that defeats the point of having a library in the first place.”
    I don’t get it. I do this all the time, and I have an index on the dvd of what photos are there, and when I need to share them I pop in the disk, download what I need, and send them on their way.
    My 80 gig G4 lampmac has had 30 gigs in the clear since I got it.
    What IS the point of a library?

  7. @Charley Eastman: I’m glad you’ve found a solution that works for you. I’ve tried what you suggest and found a few reasons why it doesn’t work for me:

    • I travel a lot so I often don’t have physical access to my backup media.
    • I’m pretty good at keeping my discs clean and scratch free, but I occasionally get errors when trying to read old discs, this is very scary.
    • Have a small home and don’t have much room to store these discs
    • I recently moved and now can’t find a box of previously backed up stuff. Also very scary.

    I may be at the extreme end of the market, but this seems like a wide open space for somebody to fill. Think of the features: it makes hard drive capacity elastic, it backs up the entire contents of the hard drive, it makes it possible for remote access to the entire contents of the hard drive.

  8. Yes! I totally need this. The problem with iPhoto is I like to make minor edits to lots of old pictures when I come across them, and with the 10’s of thousands of pics I have, my 40 GB of photos is now 80 GB.

    In the meantime, I plan on using Aperture instead of iPhoto, to reference my photo collection on an Airdisk behind the TimeCapsule. It keeps lower resolution previews on your laptop so you always have them to look at without the file size bulk, and if you need the full resolution shot you can pull it off the external disk temporarily to edit/export.

    This should be included in iPhoto though… they make it too easy for you to spend a lot of money.

  9. Completely agree that this is just a software issue. I can’t decide what to get rid of so I don’t. I want software to decide and keep in a user defined location indefinitely. Problem with Time capsule of course is that it is intended to be a back-up if it is an archive then the archive needs backing up. Raid array calling…..

  10. Isn’t being able to browse another machine (using .Mac) one of the features of 10.5? I wouldn’t suggest trying to stream music, but you could keep most (all?) of your pictures on the machine at home, and still have full access to everything while traveling. SLOW access, but that’s better than no access.

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  13. I’ve been able to store my iPhoto Library and my iTunes library on my TIme Capsule and it works great. If you open up the time capsule in the finder, you’l find a folder called “data.” There, you can place your libraries and then tell iTunes where it is. With iPhoto, you hold down the option key while it’s starting up and it asks you where the library is – navigate to the folder on your time capsule. It might be a little slow with iPhoto as it has to receive the data wirelessly, but it’s a great solution to clearing off space from your hard drive and any computer on the network can access the pics and music. I THINK there’s a way to access the iPhoto library remotely, but I haven’t figured that out yet…

  14. @Nick: The main issue I see with your solution is that your libraries are not Time Machined anymore … so if ever your TC implodes (may happen …), you loose everything, unless you manually backup everything on a regular basis.

  15. Hi Casey,

    I have been dreaming about this for a few years now. especially with the upcoming SSD drives, this would be really sweet. I also have a lot of duplicate data stored on both my desktop and my laptop.

    Have you seen / heard of any progress towards implementations of these ideas?

    I really look forward to the day that we have a central (ZFS) storage server and every user machine (laptop, desktop, iphone) has a small and fast SSD drive. The central storage server would hold a complete copy of the whole user machine’s filesystem, so crashes and reinstalls are a breeze, and the local SSD would be user to store frequently accessed files and/or recent files.

    Optionally, when no longer being in the LAN when trying to access a file not on the local cache, a VPN connection could be transparently initiated to connect to the storage server. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    Anyway, do you know of any updates in this direction?


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