Drive failure – Data loss – Backups

Drive failure. Data loss. Backups.

Why is it that we don’t like any of these things? Drive failures and data loss are obvious, but by doing the backing up we can greatly reduce the chances of data loss.


So why don’t more people – including photographers, maybe especially photographers – do it? As they say, if your data doesn’t exist in three different places, it doesn’t really exist at all, and if you don’t have it in two (or more) physical locations, you don’t really care about it.

Backing up is really not difficult, and once data is gone, it’s really gone, so a little pre-emptive work can help you out here.

Here’s how I’m looking after my data ATM. It’s written from a photographers POV, but basically can be used in any scenario.

1 – Primary data: stored on a HDD in my computer tower. I ingest images with Photo Mechanic, and it saves the images to both the primary location (like this: J:\PM Imports\<date folder>) and also to a temporary location (on an external box, I have three, this one also holds backups of my wife’s ripped TV shows, etc…). They’re also still on the card, of course. (Once I’m sure they’re backed up, I’ll delete them from the temp location (every so often, no rush, usually a few months later).)

2. Secondary data (main backup): I’ve got a little eSATA box (pictured above) that sits atop the tower next to my desk, that backs up my entire photo archive drive (E:), data (D:) drive and working photo drive (J: – an SSD) on a constant basis. It’s got four 2TB drives in it, setup as RAID5, so that’s 6TB of effective storage, but if I a drive dies, I can just slot in a new one, and it will rebuild the array with no data loss. (Theoretically, at least 🙂 This is not the same box that the images go to when ingested, but could easily be.

3. Tertiary data: A couple of portable 2TB drives (2.5″) that shuffle back and forwards to my mate’s place – the one that’s here at any point in time is also sitting on top of the tower. (also backs up D, E, J, same as the RAID box.) My wife and I both work from home, otherwise we’d just keep one at the office. Just as long as it’s in a physically separate location. Obviously the data is not as up-to-date as the box on the desk, but more secure if the place is burgled or burns to the ground.

4. Quaternary data: online. I’ve got an unlimited plan with (D:, E:) and am very happy with it. You can test it for 30 days for free, which I did, including downloading the data back off them. That’s cool, because you can either have it put back where it came from, or on your desktop (with the folder structure intact) or wherever. Worked perfectly. Rate-limited by your internet connection, of course, or you can buy a HDD service off them to move data in bulk in either direction.

Backup software: I use the free Crashplan software to feed both the RAID box, the offsite backup drives and online. Once you’ve set it up you can forget it, which is nice. Easy to use, it’s an excellent solution – if somewhat fiddly to setup due to the less than stellar UI – which you can use even if you don’t use their online service. You can configure it to send you an email if it can’t reach the backup locations. You can even use it to backup offfsite to a friends computer, which is good value (assuming your dataplans can cope).

That’s about it, really. You can’t be too safe with your data. My system might seem a bit paranoid, but that’s not a bad idea for business/important personal data, right? (Besides, I once lost a primary data store and TWO backups, so I have earned the right to be paranoid…)

For system-level backups, I use Acronis True Image to mirror the system drive. It’s simple to use, and I can easily retrieve data off the old images, so preferences for newly-installed software, etc., are usually fairly easily retrievable.

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