Backups and Archiving for Photographers (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, Backups and Archiving for Photographers (Part 1), I talked about how I make multiple backups of my data on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis. A large part of my daily backups include cloud backups, which give me multiple copies of every file in several locations. This means that in the event of a catastrophe, my data will be protected. As prices for cloud storage go down, this gets easier and cheaper to do.

Unfortunately, for a small business owner like myself, cloud storage for my entire archives is simply not an option for a number of reasons. The first is that when you start getting above a couple of hundred gigs, the price gets really out of control. Fast. But even if the pricing structure for cloud storage was affordable, unfortunately we still have to deal with the gate-keeper to the cloud: our internet service providers. The fastest upload speeds that I can get from my cable internet provider is 4mb/s. The amount of time necessary to upload a single terabyte at this speed makes this method completely impossible. Not to mention the fact that my internet provider caps the amount of upload data I can transfer each month, and calls me with not-so-friendly disconnection threats when I break those caps too many times in a row.

Sure, you can get super expensive and fast internet speeds if you’re a huge enterprise, but cloud storage for a business of my size is out of the question at this point. I’ve been struggling with this for years, and finally have put a system into place which I think is pretty solid. My archiving system, like the backup system I talked about yesterday has two main components: 1) multiple copies of each file, and 2) each of those copies need to be in different locations.

Easily Accessible Archives

I have to access my archives all the time, whether it’s clients asking for copies of legacy files or I’m looking for an image that I want to update or add to my portfolio from sometime in the past. This means that I need an easy way to access my archives from the studio, without too much hassle.

Drobo 5D
A Drobo is a “smart” disk array system that offers multi-drive protection for your data, while acting as a single drive connected to your computer. You simply pop in drives to the slots, and your data is automatically protected across all of the drives. If one drive fails, you replace it with another one, no data lost. When you run out of space, simply add a larger drive. There are definitely much cheaper ways to set up a redundant disk array than a Drobo, for example, a RAID system. Unfortunately, unless you are much more technically savvy than I am, you need to pay someone to setup and maintain your RAID system for you.

The Drobo system is not without it’s faults however. The drives are formatted in Drobo’s proprietary software format. This means that while you are protected against an individual drive failure, if the Drobo machine dies, the only way to retrieve your data is to get a new Drobo and insert all of your drives into that machine. Also, I have found that my Drobos don’t like to be disturbed, and can be a little finicky when being moved from one location to another. Also, other systems may be cheaper. That said, I love the simplicity and “out of the box” usability of the Drobo system, so I’ve stuck with it.

The first copy of all of my archives is located on my Drobo. This is where I store all projects that are not current, plus my iTunes library and all kinds of other files that I don’t need access to on my laptop. Once I month, I move completed jobs from my Projects folder on my laptop to the Drobo 5D. I keep my Drobo plugged into my Thunderbolt display, so the files are easily accessible when I’m at my desk. When I need to access archived files, I connect to the Drobo 5D just like any external or networked drive.

Multiple Location Redundant Archives

The Drobo gives me a multi-disk-protected copy of my archive, but there is still a problem with this setup: all of my files are at one location. If there’s a fire or a break-in, I could lose everything. This means that I needed to find a way to inexpensively put copies of my data at different locations to protect against catastrophic failure here at the studio.

This problem has been bugging me for a long time, and I finally came up with a solution that works for me: Instead of trying to set up an expensive system offsite, like another Drobo, I now use a combination of old internal hard drives and inexpensive external drives. Whenever I expand the capacity of my Drobos, I replace an smaller internal drive with a larger one. For example, this week I replaced a 2Tb drive with a 3TB drive. That 2 TB drive then goes into a box, along with other old drives, and is usually forgotten. These drives still work, just not for my day to day archiving.

A friend of mine suggested that for my archives, I could utilize these older drives for my offsite backups. I realized that I didn’t actually need five or six terabytes on a single drive system for these backups or an expensive Drobo or RAID system somewhere that would require a lot of work to update. Instead, I could use my smaller, discarded drives and back up each year onto a single drive.

Here is my logic: these files are for end of the world type scenarios. I will not be accessing these files every day, and the drives won’t be running constantly. They won’t have a lot of wear and tear. In truth, once I make the backups I hope to never have to access them again … and if I do have to access them, I will only need to do so once in order to copy them onto something more secure. Each drive is checked for health prior to the backup being made, and will be checked maybe once a year to make sure that they stay healthy.

As a result, the cost of making two additional offsite backups for nearly 6TB of data from 2009-2013 was $70 for the dock and some water-resistant, static-free cases to protect the drives. One set of these drives is kept in a storage unit nearby the studio, the other set is kept in a locked drawer in my wife’s infectious disease lab on the other side of town. Yeah, no one is gonna want to break in there.

Current Year Backups

The final piece of the puzzle is the files that I am creating every day. These are backed-up multiple times while the projects are active, but once they are moved to the Drobo archive, I need to also get them to my secure, offsite locations. For this, I picked up a couple of additional external drives. Unlike the older and slower drives that I recycled for the previous year archives, these are fast and durable external drives. They are powered via USB to avoid a lot of extra wires, and they are small enough to fit in my wife’s computer bag. Once a week she brings a drive home to be updated, then back it goes to the safety of a drawer in her office. The other copy goes to the storage unit with the previous year archives. It’s not a particularly elegant solution but it is effective.

So, there you have it. Multiple backups and archives of all of my files in multiple locations. What solutions have you come up with for making backups and archives?

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  1. Hi Jonathan! I like your system for backups and archiving. Looks like you’re well protected. 🙂

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