Originally published February 2011, Updated April 10, 2015
OK, so I’m anal. I don’t just back up our images once, I do it in triplicate for irreplaceable files and in duplicate for other files. Yup, you heard me, at least twice, and more often, thrice. That’s four copies total of all Arnie’s and my photographs. As the old ad says, “…Because I’m worth it!”
So, why all those copies? Easy, if one or two of my external hard drives fail, we are still good to go. We’re professionals, and over the years, we’ve made too many images that we don’t want to lose.
For example, the one at the right, “Misty Islands,” has sold numerous times as a fine-art piece and hangs in many houses here and abroad. It has been on calendars, in coffee-table books, etc. Even hung in a couple of museums. It also hangs in my office. I never tire of it.
You’ll see a couple more favorites from some of our workshops as we progress…
How about you? Are YOU worth it?
Let’s talk practicalities. Hard drives — or more properly, hard disk drive (HDD) — fail, whether internal or external. It’s not a question of if, rather a matter of when. For this reason, we have worked with multiple HDDs, and we do NOT buy them all at the same time.
When one fails, it stands to reason that the others in that same job lot will fail, too.
And when we invest in new computers, all the information for our images is on those HDDs, so we just plug it in to the new computer!
According to a techno-freak friend of ours who is really thorough in his research, the integrity of HDDs has changed.
“…all of the major mfgs of HDDs have highly automated processes geared towards a target of zero product returns and Six Sigma control levels; that wasn’t universally the case ten years ago.”
Makes sense to me. After all, think of the backlash if they didn’t strive for zero returns of their products. The word gets around.
Look at LaCie, for example, that is avoided by many pro photographers because of problems they have encountered either first hand or by the grapevine.
We have had really good luck thus far with Western Digital. Our friend, on the other hand, prefers Hitachi 3.5″ HDDs (internal), designed for 7×24 enterprise arrays. Even that grand-daddy of computers, IBM, favors them. We assume they have also done their research thoroughly. The Hitachi HDDs, by the way, are good for Mac or PC. Beware, however, as the cheaper version of Hitachi HDDs are not built to the same exacting standards as the higher-price spread.
For us, the internal HDDs are not practical. We are on the road so much, that I need a master disk to take with me. When I’m home, I plug it into my desktop; on the road, it runs off my laptop. Arnie does the same. It saves transferring catalogues, images, etc. from laptop to desktop when we get home, then again, back to laptop when we head off for another workshop. The same logic applies to getting a new computer. That said, when next we need to replace our external HDDs, I will certainly do my research and look into Hitachi’s offerings.
And just in case you don’t believe me, how about this? A few years ago, Arnie and I had three computers crash in one month — my laptop and his desktop and laptop. Fortunately, everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — was backed up in what I call “multuplicate,” including system files, preferences, documents, etc.
Sure, it’s a pain to cope with three new computers almost at the same time, but , my desktop was operational, and I just did the dance of the flowers, going back and forth amongst the machines, as I installed this and that program on them and copied over the user-specific files from the backups.
Given that scenario, this is what I do, and this is what stood us in good stead when we had the computer melt-down. Take it or leave it, but at least consider what makes sense for you.
In the chart below, it pretty much explains it all. The colored, labeled boxes represent the files that are located on master drives, internal or external. They usually share space with other file groups. The large unlabeled boxes represent the large drives, and the smaller ones, the on-the-road backup drives. In each, there are colored bars, matching the appropriate file color, showing what is located where.As an aside, those bars in each of the hard drives are all the exact same size. Really. I know; I created them in Photoshop. It’s one of those illustrations of the optical perceptions of light against darker and dark against lighter.
Alright, now you ask, “Why all those hard drives when you can get three nice mega-sized ones and put everything on them?”
I cringe at the very thought. Have you ever had to back up everything you have? In one sitting? I don’t know about your files, but ours take more than mere hours to copy.
Even our computer-help guy on all his fancy, high-speed equipment, says it would take a very l-o-o-ong time to copy everything over to a new drive.
My thought is that when the next hard drive fails — and we already know it will at some point — at least I don’t have to do everything at once. Thank gawd!
So, work out a chart of how many giga-bytes per group you have, then apportion them amongst the drives you choose for your backup. One very important thing to keep in mind … do NOT allow your HDD, whether internal or external, to get more than three-quarters full. Personally, I stop at two-thirds. Your HDD needs room to move things around if necessary.
Some years ago, I sensed that two quite-old drives were ready to misbehave badly. (Really, they ought to start paying rent, as they’ve been around for many more years than is normal.) Anyone who knows computers knows what I mean.
Over the course of the week when I first penned this blog, I was backing up onto two new HDDs. Meanwhile, I kept the old ones, pushing five-plus years old, until everything was done and confirmed.
One session, at over 12MB per second (yeah, yeah, I know — slow for these days) was still going on as I sipped a glass of red wine that Arnie brought out to me in my office behind our house. I hoped to have it all done by the next evening, and except for a few, rag-tag categories, it was. I worked in batches timed for my morning outing at Cup-A-Joe, Ladies’ Walk along the Eno River, and a gathering with friends.
What to do with those old drives? As another computer-guru friend says, “The best thing to do is to toss them up in the air over your driveway, and that will take care of it.” And so I do. Several times! Certainly a lot faster than deleting everything from them or reformatting them!
Some people religiously back up onto CDs. The jury may still be out on that, but tests suggest that they are not as stable as was once thought. Do your own research to see what you feel is best for you. I, for one, have not backed up on to CDs for years … over a decade, actually. Besides, external HDDs are so inexpensive these days, and if you do redundant backup and upgrade your external hard drives every so often, you have created a whole lot of insurance.
By the way, I use synced mirror backups. You can treat these just like the original materials. Many backup programs put the backups into folders labeled with long strings of letters and numbers within yet more folders similarly labeled. UGH! I can read my backups just the way I read them in the original folders. I use a program called ViceVersa Pro that I have used for YEARS! I am not sure what the counterpart is for Mac, but a quick Internet search will find it for you. Just make sure it does synced mirror backups.
One other thing to seriously consider, and that is to put one of your backups off site. That way, if some physical disaster strikes, you are covered elsewhere.
A friend of ours sends an external HDD to his daughter in another state with postage-paid return. Once a month, he sends another one to her, and she sends the first one back. There are three HDDs in this rotation — one at home, one off site, and one in transit.
Others use a safety deposit box, something I have successfully done. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, some big banks, I have heard, have some sort of electrical security that apparently can wipe out a hard drive. If you consider using your safety deposit box, I would err on the side of caution and test it out with just a few images that you have backed up elsewhere.
We are ensconced the the age of the cloud, but for Arnie and me, clouds are ephemeral. Ever watch then above you? They morph into other shapes and wisps and even disappear entirely. For this reason, we do not look to clouds for main backup. We often travel to places with little or no Internet connection, and what good is a cloud them? The cloud service we use is Carbonite. The first backup took months, but now it updates with little fuss.
Whatever you use, onsite and offsite, be sure to do it in “multuplicate.” Backup, backup, backup!
If you enjoy our blog(s) …
Please SUBSCRIBE. It’s easy to do by clicking on the appropriate link at the top of the right column.
Comments on the blog are always encouraged and welcome.
We also hope you will LIKE this and SHARE this blog with those interested in photography by clicking on the buttons below. We also hope you will check out these links: