My back-up solution

Yeehaw! Hard drives and back-up strategies! Woo hoo! Alright, maybe I’m the only one that gets hot and bothered about a disk spinning at 7200 rpm mere nanometers from a read/write head.

I thought I’d throw out a quick post detailing my back-up strategies and what I’ve changed since my recent near tragedy with my laptop drive dying. I had a good back-up and archiving procedure in place before I had any trouble with the MacBook Pro but having gone through the hassle of having to rebuild my system I’ve taken the “opportunity” to iron out any kinks.

Previously, I had Apple’s Time Machine running on an external 1TB USB drive and my iTunes library on another external USB. That worked great, but with the USB drives plugged in I had trouble getting them both to mount sometimes and I had to dismount one in order to plug in my card reader or iPod. And it took forever to restore my system from Time Machine after the “incident”. Also, my iTunes library was getting too big for it’s britches. This adds up to a couple of trips to Costco and Best Buy. I’m going to try not to buy from Tiger Direct or Canada Computers anymore. Their service is abysmal and trying to get any help from them when things go wrong is an exercise in futility.

So now my iTunes Library sits on a Western Digital My Book FireWire 400 drive with ample room to grow, and Time Machine is running on a Western Digital My Book Studio FireWire 800 drive. Geeks everywhere achieved ecstasy just then. The benefit here is that now I can connect USB devices without having to worry about whether or not my backups are going to happen. The FireWire connection is always fast and solid as heck.

I’m using Time Machine to keep my back up up to date as I work at home and I’m using Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper! software to keep my off-site back up current. I keep another WD My Book FireWire 400 drive at work and a couple of times a week I bring my laptop with me and update the off-site back-up.

This strategy gives me redundancy in a couple of ways (that’s a good thing when you’re talking about data). First, by having my data in two locations separated by a fair distance (90 km) I’m “safe” from losing my data in a natural disaster or due to burglary or more likely in my case blunder. Say I accidentally knock my laptop off the desk, my back-up is for all intents tied to it via the cable. They could very easily both be damaged beyond repair by a drop like that (the skeptics among you are pointing out the sudden impact sensors and other doodads built into today’s drives – I’ll let you guys test that theory and I’ll stick with my paranoia, thanks).

Also, by using 2 software programs I’ve protected myself from a bug in the software keeping my back-up from running. I have chosen two of the industry leading back-up programs so I’m not really that worried, but still, better safe than yadda, yadda.

I’m using the same brand of drive in both locations but they are 2 different models and capacities, purchased at different times. This protects me from possibly getting two lemon drives from the same bad batch. Even though having two drives go down at the same time is really, REALLY not likely to happen, it has happened, to us at work. We had a RAID 5 setup in which a second drive died before we could replace the first. In non-geek, we got boned… hard. We should have had a spare drive on hand to swap in as soon as the first drive died, but we didn’t and we had to wait for one to get shipped to us.

Anyways, the take home message is that you shouldn’t feel safe until you have your data on 3 different drives in 2 locations. You should make it fast and easy for this to happen otherwise it won’t. If you’re running a Mac, Time Machine is built in (Leopard and later) and free and a couple of drives will set you back very little. So get on it.

Drobo vs RAID

I’ve had to write this out for a number of people on Facebook and in email so I thought I would write this out here so that I could just post a link from now on because I’m just that lazy. Full disclosure, I’ll probably cut and paste a bunch of this info because, as I’ve alluded to, I’m lazy.

I’m going to speak in general terms about the two systems and I’m sure I’ll be wrong at some point. I’m sure there’s a company out there that has built an enclosure that compensates for some of the short comings of RAID but I just don’t know about them. I’m also sure that if there isn’t a product like that, there probably soon will be.

Drobo and Raid (level 5 and 6) share the same basic principles. They provide greater data protection by spreading the data across a number of hard drives with some level of redundancy built in. Depending on the RAID system and the particular model of Drobo you can have one or even two drives simultaneously fail and not lose any data. So that’s pretty awesome.

A traditional RAID has to have the same size of drive in each bay whereas a Drobo allows you to mix any size drive with any other size drive. Your storage capacity will be limited somewhat by the smaller drives in the array because they have to be able to hold the parity data from the larger drives but you don’t have to buy 4-8 new drives whenever you need a bit more space. So that means that with RAID if you run out of room you need to copy the entire RAID onto another drive, replace ALL the drives with bigger drives, format the array and move the data back onto the RAID. If you have enough data that you need a RAID this means that you’ll need a couple of days to do this. Depending on the particular RAID device you’re using you may need identical model drives (not just the same size). Which means that if you have a drive failure after 3 or 4 years and the manufacture no longer makes that drive, you’re boned. You may need to replace the whole system. With Drobo if you need more space you just pull the smallest drive in the pack and stick in a bigger drive and let the Drobo rebuild itself. No worries about brand, or drive size. This saves you money too because drive prices drop over time and if you need more space you can buy a $200 drive now, a $150 drive in 6 months time and a $100 in a year instead of buying all the drives at $200 now. 

Drobo has computer built into the enclosure which monitors drive health and can warn you to replace a drive before it’s actually failed. It’s also data aware, which means it’ll tell you when it’s getting full so you can go buy a drive before you run out space completely. I bought mine because I wasn’t paying attention and I literally could not offload my cards after a wedding shoot because my drives were full. Thankfully, (plug!) had unbelievably fast service and I was up and running by the next day.

It also does some neat stuff like tell you which drives to replace so you don’t have to pull them all to check sizes. It has a capacity indicator to tell you how full it is. You can add a Droboshare unit to turn it into a NAS (Network Attached Storage) so that you can serve data to multiple computers, although truthfully, I wouldn’t bother going this route unless you’re sharing a music or movie library as the Droboshare connects via USB and it’s probably pretty slow for actual work.

Need more info?

In my opinion, it’s probably possible to get a cheaper RAID or a faster RAID or a whatever RAID and if you’re a geek then why are you reading this? you can put that together and maintain it properly and safely. But, if you’re less tech savvy or, like me, you have better things to do than worry about or troubleshoot your RAID then Drobo is the way to go. I use Drobo for the same reason I use a Mac, it just works. 

Hope that helps.

I’ve talked about workflow and backup on my other blog. I advocate backing up on multiple drives in multiple places. Peter Krough calls this the 3-2-1 rule. 3 copies of a file on 2 different media and 1 of those has to be off-site. Chase Jarvis posted this video describing his workflow and you can see that his studio has more than 3 copies of the file. 

Did you watch the video yet? Pretty daunting right? Did you catch that part at the end about the system being scaleable? You can implement a perfectly reliable backup system for $350 or less.

Run down to Bestbuy and pick up 3 identical external hard drives. Right now, a 2 TB drive is around a hundred bucks and a 3 TB drive is slightly more. Now pick up a copy of SuperDuper! if you’re a Mac user or Acronis True Image if you come from the dark side of the Force. 

One of those drives will hold your photos and the other two are your backups. You’ll use SuperDuper! or True Image to make exact duplicates of your working drive. One of the dupes goes to your mom’s house, or a friend’s house, or wherever just as long as it’s a different building that’s far enough away that it won’t burn in the same fire or get caught in the same tornado as the working drive (BTW, we had an earthquake as I was writing this so it’s not that far fetched). 

On occasion, you’ll rotate the duplicates so that the off-site backup is reasonably up to date. The more often that you rotate the copies the better, do it daily if you can.

That’s a really bare bones but totally acceptable back-up solution. It doesn’t technically meet the 3-2-1 rule until you add in a DVD or Blu-ray copy of your photos but this is the minimum that you should doing and it’s more than most photographers do.

Now, get to it!