While we were researching this report, Sandy's PC started behaving strangely. She first saw some unusual error warnings from Norton Anti-Virus. CHKDSK, a Windows utility that checks the health of the disk drive, found some bad sectors on the drive. After we let CHKDSK repair the problems, the computer ran okay for a another day. Then Windows XP crashed and did not want to start up because some of the key Windows files were now missing. CHKDSK confirmed that the disk had developed more problems--the drive was clearly failing.
While this was inconvenient, it wasn't a cause for panic. All the PCs in our house are connected through an Ethernet network. We store most of the critical files--such as the database with our subscriber records--on a server, and access them through the network. Every night at 3 am, our server backs up all of these files.
We both use Outlook and keep its data files on our individual PCs. Our server backs up these large files every night, so we knew that if Sandy's disk crashed completely, we could get back to the night before. Just to make sure, we copied the current contents of the file to the hard disk on Sandy's notebook PC.
For several years we have used Sandy's PC to host our digital music collection: it contains all of our CDs and some vinyl records we have converted to MP3 format. We transferred the entire music collection to the hard disk on another PC.
Finally, we transferred Sandy's digital photo collection to the server hard drive.
It took a little effort to install a new hard disk drive in Sandy's PC and rebuild Windows XP and Office from the recovery disks. Whenever we download the latest version of a program like Adobe Reader or AIM, we save a copy in a folder on our server, so it was fairly easy to recreate the rest of Sandy's software environment. Then we copied all the data files back to the new hard drive. We don't think we lost anything as a result of the disk crash.
Many of these files are very large. Each Outlook file is close to one gigabyte; our music collection is more than ten gigabytes. But the transfer times were all very reasonable using our 100 Mbps Ethernet network.
These applications--using the network to access common program and data files on a central disk drive, transferring files from one PC to another, and backing data up periodically--are rather mundane uses of home networking compared with the media applications we often discuss in this report. Their value really becomes clear when hard disks fail.