Thursday, May 22, 2008

backup strategy

Today I am going to go over something that I have been horrible at for years and years.  For a long time, I was no different than thousands ... probably millions of consumers.  I did not have a backup strategy for the files that were important to me.  I was struck by the weight of this issue yesterday.  Two customers - one in the morning and one in the evening - came in needing hard drives to "back up" their data.  Here is the problem.  As I asked a few questions about what they planned on doing with the drive I discovered they had a full drive on their existing system and were simply buying this additional storage device to move the data off their primary hard drive.  For some reason people have this understanding that backing your data up is simply moving it to an external hard drive.

I have a friend - we'll call him Josh because this story is kinda embarrassing.  I became friends with Josh through work.  He came in and purchased several SLRs and a computer and as he came in more often and we got to talking we began hanging out.  We would go shoot stuff and critique each others photos.  He asked me about his ever shrinking free hard drive space so I got him hooked up with an external hard drive to free up his scratch disk for faster speed in photoshop.  Two months later, the external drive Josh purchased was toast.  In an instant he lost more than 2,000 images and hours of time invested in editing and playing with photos.  We went on to try and get the data back - which is another story.  The point here is - Hard Drives FAIL!  Age is somewhat a factor; however, time and time again they will FAIL.  I hear people make statements like "I have this in place if my drive ..."  Folks, there is no "if" - it is "when".  Since we have established that they are volatile storage devices ... how can we use them with any confidence.  Numbers.  There is a rock-solid strength in numbers.  The more places you store your data the more secure it is.  There are several ways one can go about backing up data - so lets take a look at a few solutions.

1) CD/DVD:  Making copies of your images on to CDs or DVDs is a valid solution with very defined pros and cons.  The biggest pro is portability.  Disks can be stored in a remote location.  Also, if your computer gets a virus - the CD/DVD storage is not writable so your files can't be deleted or infected.  The biggest problem comes to organization.  It doesn't take long for the discs to pile up.  If you choose this method you MUST have a system in place for labeling the disks and filling them so they are usable.  This form of backup is not dissimilar to the way we used to store and file negatives.
2) Online Storage:  There are tons of companies out there who offer the ability to store your data on their servers for a monthly or annual fee.  This data is redundantly stored on multiple drives and is very secure.  The limitation here is bandwidth.  Most internet providers only give their subscribers a limited amount of up traffic which is how data is uploaded from your computer to the file servers.  Low bandwidth means you are going to be waiting days or weeks for the first upload to finish.
3) RAID / NAS:  Several companies have put together RAID and NAS solutions for storing data redundantly (just like online storage) in your own home or office.  Multiple drives fit in an enclosure and redundantly back each-other up.  LaCie, Western Digital, D-Link, Drobo, and HP offer storage solutions for this.  They are local (translation = fast).  They offer expandability and flexibility.  They are expensive.  Most of these systems will settle in around $800-$1,000 once you pay for the enclosure and the storage.  If you are dealing with production images and need production grade local backup these are defiantly the way to go.  The biggest downfall of this method is location.  These drives are in your home or studio and if something happens to that studio - fire, theft, ect the drive will suffer the same fate as the rest of your equipment.
4)  Number 4 is the poor-man's version of number three.  It is a good place to start by getting you data reasonably secure with little financial impact.  What do I mean by reasonably secure?  Is it possible that the data could fail?  Yes.  Is it probable ... NO.  This is the system I use so here is a screen shot of my computer's drive system.

My system is made up of 3 320GB drives.  The first drive is partitioned to make up the Main OS partition (where my operating system lives and all my programs are installed) and my recovery partition.  Two notes here:  1.  The first thing I did when bringing this machine home was to make real recovery disks ... so I don't care about backing up the recovery partition because it already is backed up using method one discussed above.  2. I don't care about backing up my programs or OS because I can just re-install - there is no data on the line.  The second drive which I label "archive" is where all my media is stored:  Music, Movies, Designs, Downloaded application install files and yes my images.  Every evening at 3am my computer makes a copy of the Archive drive to a backup drive - a third 320 GB drive using a piece of software called Argentum Backup.  The negative is quite obvious - all my data is in one box.  If something happens to that box my data is toast.  This solution is very difficult to manage on a laptop but it is possible if you are diligent at plugging your laptop into the external drives every evening.

The bottom line is this - back up your data in some way, shape or form.  If you only have one copy on your computer that file could be lost forever.  If you have a copy on another drive and your existing drive fails you simply get a new drive and recover from the backup.  If you have a RAID or other solution like a RAID - when a drive fails pull the old one and replace it with a new one and it will automatically make everything redundant again ... might take it a few hours to get all the data back in place but it can handle it.  The cool thing is that most drives carry a 3-5 year warranty from the manufacturer.  Most won't insure your data - just the drive.  But that's ok because you backed the data up ... didn't you?  Well, assuming that you did you get to have a different conversation with the drive manufacturer.  They should replace the drive (see the links below for instructions per that manufacturer) with a new one under the manufacturers warranty.

Main Manufacturers Warrantee Redemption / Information Sites 

Ignorance is bliss ... until a hard drive crash.  Now that you aren't ignorant go out and back up your date - you will be glad you did.


Anonymous said...

On the subject of file backup, sharing and storage ...

Online backup is becoming common these days. It is estimated that 70-75% of all PC's will be connected to online backup services with in the next decade.

Thousands of online backup companies exist, from one guy operating in his apartment to fortune 500 companies.

Choosing the best online backup company will be very confusing and difficult. One website I find very helpful in making a decision to pick an online backup company is:

This site lists more than 400 online backup companies in its directory and ranks the top 25 on a monthly basis.

Anonymous said...


I can propose you to try - Professional backup service with special schedule manager.
Full encryption on local files, upload, download.
And you are sure your data is secured.

laura said...

we use MozyPro for an online backup of our POS software here at work and have been very happy with the service.

Rick Mead said...

Thanks so much for the insight. I have done very little in the way of online backup so I totally appreciate all the insight. I will be checking out all the products you guys recommended and will have a follow up backup post on Thursday of next week.