there are two basic principles i’m trying to keep in mind when creating my backup and disaster recovery plan for my photographs (and other important digital data).
- unless the data exists in (two or) three locations, it doesn’t exist at all.
- an untested disaster recover plan is worthless.
unless the data exists in (two or) three locations, it doesn’t exist at all
the basic premise of this principle is that if your data is only one place, a single incident could wipe that data away as if it never existed at all. the incident could be an accidental delete, a hardware failure, a drop, a scratch, magnet, solar flares, or anything that causes the 1s and 0s on the storage device to flip and cause the file to be unread. Â as a matter of practice, after a photo shoot, the images only exist on the camera’s storage media. when you copy the images from the card to the computer, it’s technically in two places, but if you’re like me, the card generally gets formatted and reused, so the data is again only in one place. Â it’s good practice, then, to copy that data to another location, and some software (like lightroom) can copy images from the card both to your computer and to a backup location at the same time.
to go a little beyond that, it’s good practice to also have a copy of the data in another location. in the event of theft, fire, flood, or otherÂ catastrophicÂ event, having all of your backups in the same physical location may help prevent from a hard drive failure, for example, but not in the event that your house burns down.
an untested disaster recover plan is worthless
i learned to appreciate this principle in my time working in corporate information technology. copying data to multiple locations is fantastic. and more people than not feel safe and secure in the notion that their data is also safe and secure. until, that is, an event happens that necessitates the restoration from one of those backups. in a perfect world, you restore the files and go on your way. however, what if somewhere along the way, files got corrupted and your backup had the same corrupted files. or if your backup solution incorrectly reported that it copied the files over but the backup neverÂ occurred, and instead of restoring from last week’s backup, you find that you only have one from a year ago, or no backup at all.
my point here is that you shouldn’t trust the software, just like you shouldn’t trust your hardware. if you’re making the effort to back up your data, you should regularly check to make sure that your backups are working, and that your backups are complete and uncorrupted. in the IT world, we routinely attempted to restore from one of our backups to a “clean” location to ensure that there were no issues with our restore process, and that the restored files matched what we were expecting.
if you never verify your backups, don’t be surprised if you have no backups at all.
my current solution
CF card -> laptop -> lacie external drive -> western digital network drive
my primary computer is a macbook pro that does not have a very large hard drive. i usually have the last month’s worth of shoots on my laptop at any time.
when i import new images, i’m currently using lightroom to copy the files using a usb card reader to my computer. i mentioned earlier that lightroom can also copy to a backup location at the same time; i’m still working through some issues with that mechanism so that it will work for me, so i do not currently use it.
next, i go through lightroom to make sure all the images get imported and that everything looks good. at this point, all the images are still on my CF card in the event that there was a problem with the import.
if everything looks good, i next copy that shoot to a local external hard drive. my current drive is a lacie 2TB quadra 2-disk raid drive. the file structure is exactly the same on that hard drive as it is on my local machine, so i’ll copy the new folder over to the external drive.
in lightroom, i have a library set up for all of the folders on the external hard drive, too. so i can easily switch over to that library, add the new folder, and verify that the images on the external hard drive are valid.
once the files are on my laptop and on the external hard drive, i’ll reuse the CF card for another shoot. typically, i import, backup, and verify the backup all at the same time.
i mentioned that my hard drive on my computer is not very large, so i regularly need to archive off changes i make locally to my external hard drive, and i will eventually need to remove older image files completely from my laptop. enter my western digital my book world edition ii. this is another raid solution, but this one is a network attached storage (NAS). this means that i can connect to it from anywhere over my wireless network. it’s pretty slick, although certainly slower than the locally attached external hard drive. however, it’s perfect for an extra location for my data, and on a regular basis, i back up my images to that drive, as well.
so at this point, i have working images on my laptop, and full copies of all of my images on both the lacie external hard drive and the western digital network drive. if i make changes locally to any files, those changes get pushed to both drives, as well. if i make changes to things on the lacie external drive that are no longer on my laptop, those changes are pushed up to the network hard drive.
the external hard drive is nice, and it’s really handy with the lightroom library set up for the external drive because if i need to go back and look at an album after it’s removed from my laptop, i can edit it right on the external drive since the firewire 800 interface is fast enough for that sort of thing. the network drive is nice because i can access stuff from anywhere in the house without having to plug anything in, but it’s not the fastest thing on the planet. as a matter of practice, though, i don’t make changes to any of the files on the network drive because i want my backups to flow only one way, so it the slowness doesn’t really affect me.
i mentioned earlier that having all my backups in one physical location isn’t ideal. i’ve been researching “cloud storage”; basically, paying a company for hard drive space where i can drop my files. a nice bonus to that is that they typically back up that data, as well, so my backups of my Â backups are backed up. however, i’m still shopping around for cost effective solutions. one of the problems is that the typical “backup” solutions are meant for an average user backing up their word documents, and it keeps the computer and the backup in sync. so if a user deletes a file locally, it gets deleted from their backup, too, since the backup mirrors the local computer. in my case, i don’t want it to stay in sync since i routinely delete files from my laptop. it could definitely stay in sync, for example, with my network drive, but few/no services provide that functionality. the amazon cloud storage looks promising, but at this point, it’s cost prohibitive for the 300-400GB that i would need for years worth of digital files.
for now, i purchased a small seagate 500gb portal hard drive that i copied a snapshot of my backup to and sent it to my folks that live in another state. in the event of an EMP at my house, i can restore from that drive once everything comes back online (yes, i tested the files on that drive after i brought it to their house). those drives are so cheap that my plan will be to regularly send a new drive to them and get back the old one, and just keep swapping them. maybe eventually i’ll set up a network drive at their house and use that connection, but this works for now.