Confessions Of A Digital Pack Rat: Almost Half A Petabyte And Still Growing

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Retired rack server

What do you do when you have almost half a petabyte (PB) of data? That’s the situation in which Michael Oskierko finds himself. He’s a self-proclaimed digital pack rat who’s amassed more than 390 terabytes (TB) total, and it’s continuing to grow.

Based in Texas, Michael Oskierko is a financial analyst by day. But he’s set up one of the biggest personal data warehouses we’ve seen. The Oskierko family has a huge collection of photos, videos, documents and more – much more than most of us. Heck, more data than many companies have.

How Did It Get Like This?

“There was a moment when we were pregnant with our second child,” Michael explained. “I guess it was a nesting instinct. I was looking at pictures of our first child and played them back on a 4K monitor. It was grainy and choppy.”

Disappointed with the quality of those early images, he vowed to store future memories in a pristine state. “I got a DSLR that took great pictures and saved everything in RAW format. That’s about 30 MB per image right there.”

Michael says he now has close to 1 million photos (from many different devices, not just the DSLR) and about 200,000 videos stored in their original formats. Michael says that video footage from his drone alone occupies about 300 GB.

The Oskierkos are also avid music listeners: iTunes counts 707 days’ worth of music in their library at present. Michael keeps Green Day’s entire library on heavy rotation, with a lot of other alternative rock a few clicks away. His wife’s musical tastes are quite broad, ranging from rap to gospel. They’re also avid audiobook listeners, and it all adds up: Dozens more TB of shared storage space dedicated to audio files.

What’s more, he’s kept very careful digital records of stuff that otherwise might have gotten tossed to the curbside years ago. “I have every single note, test, project, and assignment from 7th grade through graduate school scanned and archived,” he tells us. He’s even scanned his textbooks from high school and college!

“I started cutting these up and scanning the pages before the nifty ‘Scan to PDF’ was a real widespread option and duplexing scanners were expensive,” he said.

One of the biggest uses of space isn’t something that Michael needs constant access to, but he’s happy to have when the need arises. As a hobbyist programmer who works in multiple languages and on different platforms, Michael maintains a library of uncompressed disk images (ISOs) which he uses as needed.

When you have this much storage, it’s silly to get greedy with it. Michael operates his sprawling setup as a personal cloud for his family members, as well.

“I have a few hosted websites, and everyone in my family has a preconfigured FTP client to connect to my servers,” he said.

Bargain Hunting For Big Storage

How do you get 390 TB without spending a mint? Michael says it’s all about finding the right deals. The whole thing got started when a former boss asked if Michael would be interested in buying the assets of his shuttered computer repair business. Michael ended up with an inventory of parts which he’s successfully scavenged into the beginning of his 390 TB digital empire.

He’s augmented and improved that over time, evolving his digital library over six distinct storage systems that he’s used to maintaining all of his family’s personal data. He keeps an eye out wherever he can for good deals.

“There are a few IT support and service places I pass by on my daily commute to work,” he said. He stops in periodically to check if they’re blowing out inventory. Ebay and other online auction sites are great places for him to find deals.

“I just bought 100 1 TB drives from a guy on eBay for $4 each,” he said.

Miscellaneous parts

Michael has outgrown and retired a bunch of devices over the years as his storage empire has grown, but he keeps an orderly collection of parts and supplies for when he has to make some repairs.

How To Manage Large Directories: Keep It Simple

“I thoroughly enjoy data archiving and organizing,” Michael said. Perhaps a massive understatement. While he’s looked at Digital Asset Management (DAM) software and other tools to manage his ever-growing library, Michael prefers a more straightforward approach to figuring out what’s where. His focus is on a simplified directory structure.

“I would have to say I spend about 2 hours a week just going through files and sorting things out but it’s fun for me,” Michael said. “There are essentially five top-level directories.”

Documents, installs, disk images, music, and a general storage directory comprise the highest hierarchy. “I don’t put files in folders with other folders,” he explained. “The problem I run into is figuring out where to go for old archives that are spread across multiple machines.”

How To Back Up That Much Data

Even though he has a high-speed fiber optic connection to the Internet, Michael doesn’t want to use it all for backup. So much of his local backup and duplication is done using cloning and Windows’ built-in Xcopy tool, which he manages using home-grown batch files.

Michael also relies on Backblaze Personal Backup for mission-critical data on his family’s personal systems. “I recommend it to everyone I talk to,” he said.

In addition to loads of available local storage for backups, three of his Michael’s personal computers back up to Backblaze. He makes them accessible to family members who want the peace of mind of cloud-based backup. He’s also set up Backblaze for his father in law’s business and his mother’s personal computer.

“I let Backblaze do all the heavy lifting,” he said. “If you ever have a failure, Backblaze will have a copy we can restore.”

Thanks from all of us at Backblaze for spreading the love, Michael!

What’s Next?

The 390 TB is spread across six systems, which has led to some logistical difficulties for Michael, like remembering to power up the right one to get what he needs (he doesn’t typically run everything all the time to help conserve electricity).

Command Central

“Sometimes I have to sit there and think, ‘Where did I store my drone footage,’” Michael said.

To simplify things, Michael is trying to consolidate his setup. And to that end, he recently acquired a decommissioned Storage Pod from Backblaze. He said he plans to populate the 45-bay Pod with as large hard drives as he can afford, which will hopefully make it simpler, easier and more efficient to store all that data.

Well, as soon as he can find a great deal on 8 TB and 10 TB drives, anyway. Keep checking eBay, Michael, and stay in touch! We can’t wait to see what your Storage Pod will look like in action!

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